Sunday, September 13, 2015

Mark 9.30-37: Jesus and Children, Generally and Specifically

As is often the case, the details probably best identify the subject. The gospel reading for Proper 20B/Ordinary 25B/Pentecost 17 (Mark 9:30-37) is a story that shares broad strokes with other scripture passages. Disciples, Jesus, children -- sometimes they are jumbled together in paintings and expected to serve all the stories where Jesus is in the presence of children.

The most popular treatment of these elements seems to center around the episode where the disciples are rebuked by Jesus for trying to keep the children away from Jesus (Matthew 19:13-14, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17). In contemporary illustrations, often Jesus is simply with a group of children in a landscape. No other adults are present. The children sit on his lap, stand at his knee, occasionally sit on his shoulder. Jesus is often smiling or reaching out his hand to touch and bless them. In at least one image Jesus kicks a soccer ball with a group of children. Because there are no adults present, these compositions may be projecting the result of Jesus' comments to the disciples. Children are unhindered and unrestrained in the presence of of an unhindered and unrestrained Jesus.

But that doesn't necessarily speak to the Mark 9 passage. In that particular passage, the child, who may be the promise of the future but is considered of little consequence in the present, is put in the middle of the group. Jesus holds the child and in his speech ties himself to the child: whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.

Below are three pictures. Which one do you think is the best depiction of the Mark 9 text? Perhaps you are dissatisfied with all of them. Look at the details of the composition. What's best or what's missing in each of them? Information on the works are at the bottom of the page.

 (Top left: Nicolas Maes. Christ Blessing the Children. 1652-1653. National Gallery, London. Top right: Carl Bloch, Suffer the Little Children. 1865-1879. Frederiksborg Castle Chapel, Hillerod, Denmark. Bottom: C.R. Leslie, Christ Rebuking His Disciples by Calling the Little Child. c. 1860. New Norcia Art Gallery, Australia.

The Art&Faith Matters Facebook page will feature paintings of Jesus and the children - not necessarily this specific text but they will give you something to push against as you consider the meaning of Mark 9. Click here and here.

For thoughts on Proverbs 31:10-31, click here.

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