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Jesus Loves the Little Children…

4 weeks ago written by

I grew up singing this children’s chorus:
Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world,
Red and yellow, black and white,
They’re all precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

As I write this, it’s been a long time since I actually sang this chorus. I think, however, we’d all benefit by singing it periodically. At the least, it reminds us that Jesus regards little children as especially worthy of attention and care. It also invites us to a common confession: Jesus’ love extends to all the little children of the world — the whole world — whatever particulars may otherwise distinguish them. And, for those who remember the biblical story, this beloved children’s chorus may offer us even more.

The chorus returns us to bedrock matters that bear on our identity as human beings. In the beginning, the Lord God fashioned and formed a one-of-a-kind creature, using God’s own self as the pattern. The Maker of all became the Model and the Mold for these one-of-a-kind creatures; the creatures who in the unfolding pages of the story come to know themselves as offspring and children of God, one-of-a-kind creatures made with special design for special purposes in God’s world, little ones made out of love and for love — not least the love celebrated in this little chorus.

Now, I am aware that the “professional exegetes” among us will be quick to note that it is precisely the little children Jesus loves, and, of course, they are correct! That is exactly how the text of the chorus reads.

But does that imply Jesus no longer loves them when they get big? Or that they outgrow their need for Jesus’ love? Or that “getting big” complicates the love Jesus has for them? All of these are good questions.

Here’s another: Is there some sense in which little children who “get big” may still remain little?

Some experts will also observe that the one-of-a-kind creatures, beloved children of God, rejected God’s love, walked away from God’s fellowship, and suffer many painful and deadly consequences. Indeed, the human parents of “all the children of the world” have, in turn, misshaped and malformed the beloved little ones. Indeed, sometimes this has happened to such an extent that only traces of their primal wonder and glory are detectable.

Moreover, keen observers of humankind remind us that the-once-little and beloved-children grew up and went their own way, forming their own groups, societies and cultures. They relocated to other places, staking out territory, laying claim to spheres of their own, developing them, protecting them, expanding them, defending them. Eventually, the once-little became big and strong, capable and crafty, accomplished makers and molders of their own selves. Along the way, in the name of advancement or progress or destiny, the once little ones grieved and offended one another — often in small ways that embed within hearts like seeds or befoul the air they breathe or taint the water they drink. Until, finally, the family of little ones made like God’s own self — out of love and for love — no longer remembers who they are, why they are, and how they are “little,” “children” or “loved.” Instead, the little ones imagine they are big, bigger and best; grown up, smart and savvy; competent, superior and self-sufficient…

Until, inevitably, they aren’t. Until those with the most feel their lack, and those who feel their lack know only to blame and begrudge others. Until the-once-little but now-grown-up, can only regress to childish name-calling, blame-casting, stone-throwing — not to reclaim what they’ve lost, but to assert and enforce their imagined right to more, even at the expense of others, even if it turns out to be all others. Until few feel the love and many wonder if there ever was such a thing. Shockingly, this was the path even of the specially God-called children whose vocation was to show the world God’s better way.

Enter the Child, virgin-conceived, cradled in a cave, driven from home as a refugee, quietly growing in wisdom and favor before God and others, entering Jordan’s waters, rising up, anointed by the Spirit and named by His Abba: “My Beloved Child!”

He traveled the countryside announcing, “Kingdom!” He called to all who are curious, confused and crushed, and to all who have exhausted their hope and feel their need of help: “Come and follow me!” Then He stunned them by insisting that they must become like children, receive like children, be reborn as children. They must!

The professional exegetes will observe that God’s Beloved Child did not alter the invitation to suit whatever particulars may otherwise distinguish them. He called to any and all who might have been there: to red, yellow, black and white, just the same. He called to any and all just the same and told them all alike:

The Messiah loves the little children,
All the children of the world,
Red and yellow, black and white,
(Jew and Greek, God-fearing and pagan,
Brilliant and ignorant; rich and poor,
From here and from there, Jerusalem to
Judea and Samaria, and to all earth’s ends;
First century, twenty-first century
In between then and now, and beyond,
All, just the same, past, present and future)
They’re all precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Our exegetical friends will now make one final observation: Singing this song did not go viral, but rather violent for Jesus. Precisely the insistence upon love for all — no matter the particulars that divide and distinguish them — and precisely the announcement that this love for all expresses God’s heart inspired crowds of people to drown Jesus’ love chorus with another: “Crucify Him!”

But still:

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world,
Red and yellow, black and white,
They’re all precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

The most astute professional exegetes among us now cannot help themselves. They rise up to declare the truth in the fullness of third-day light: All of us remain but children before the God who is Love, who has loved us all to death, and then beyond. Therefore, God reaches for all persons as beloved children. God created them as such. Refused to give up on them as such. Died for them as such, and arose for them as such. God redeems all the little children — all of them — which means everyone is precious in God’s sight, and in the sight of all God’s children.

We should sing this chorus often!

David Kendall is an ordained elder in the Great Plains Conference. He retired at the end of September from the office of Free Methodist bishop to which he was first elected in 2005. He is the author of “Follow Her Lead” (fmchr.ch/dkfollow) and “God’s Call to Be Like Jesus” (fmchr.ch/godscalldk).

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[Bishops] · General · L + L November 2019