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The Child as a model of discipleship

Introduction In the world divorce rate, teen pregnancy rate, child poverty rate, and abortion rate has tremendously increased; teenage suicide has tripled in the last thirty years; millions of children are abused every year; gunshot wounds are the leading cause of death for teenage boys; big percent of teenagers drop out of school; millions of children lack health insurance; children grow up in single-parent families has increased; more middle-class families find it difficult to afford housing, healthcare, and education; all families face huge social pressures from a culture that is not family centered. Therefore, can we conclude that "the tragic fate of too many children is not simply an economic problem, but a sign of moral failure and a religious test. Children are often seen as a distraction from the single-mindedness required of those desiring holiness. Still, early in the Christian tradition, children begin to occupy a place of great importance in the family. They were seen as a justification for sexual relations in a time that valued celibacy and virginity and as an extension of the small Christian community begun by the parents.3 Thus early Christian writings in support of marriage put children at the center of the family. Adding to this, Paul II describes children as a gift from God and claims that a couple's relationship with their children deepens the one-flesh unity between a husband and Wife.1 In today context, what can be learned from children? What would it mean to honor children as models of discipleship, as Jesus seems to have asked Christians to do? Do parents have a legitimate role as shapers of children's value and character? Not very many Christian thinkers have asked these questions. This attempt at a theology of and for children is a relatively new enterprise in which theologians apply their knowledge about Scripture and tradition to the complex issues of how to raise a child. In this seminar I like to elaborate the theme “children as models of discipleship”. Starting point would be Old Testament, where God chooses children as massagers of His revelation. Jesus adopts same outlook by asserting children as models of discipleship. Children as living members of the family contribute in their own way to the sanctification of their parents. In turn parents have obligation to educate the children. Therefore I would like to elaborate, role of the parents in spiritual formation. Children and the Old Testament Israel sees in fruitfulness a sign of God's blessing". Children are "the crown of old men" (Prov. 17:6), sons are "the olive plants around the table" (Ps 128:3). But the biblical authors do not forget that the child is an unfinished being, and they remember the importance of a firm education. Folly is anchored in his heart (Prov. 22:15), caprice is his law (cf Mt 11:1619); and lest he be tossed about by all winds (E 4, 14), he must be kept under tutelage (G 4: lff). In view of these statements, the biblical affirmations about the religious dignity of the child are all the more remarkable. Even a psalmist, to express his confident abandonment to
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John Paul II, On the Family, no. 14

3 Ibid Blenkinsopp. but what constituted a child? The most frequent Hebrew words translated as child" or youth" are yeled and na'ar. 4 Daniel I. a child obedient to His parents. but could also refer young people in general. 1 Sam. civil servants (1 Kg 20:14. Block. a little child presented in the temple (2:27). the sign of deliverance (Is 7:14ff): and Isaiah proclaims the royal child who will re-establish right and justice together with the kingdom of David (9:1-6). a young child who can still be arm-carried (Ishmael.15. 67.it was fitting that to inaugurate the new covenant the Son of God should make Himself a little child? Luke has carefully marked the stages of His childhood. a survey of which is as follows: newly born in a manger (Lk 2:12). a court page (Daniel's friends). and newborn (Hebrew children saved from death in Egypt). Parents reared their children. Absalom. or a generic term for young man. David is singled out in preference to his older brothers (lSam 16:1-13). grandson of Eli the priest. Within any culture. ed. . for it can also designate military personnel (Gen 14:24. 2 These terms are used in a myriad of contexts. and perhaps also cultic officials (Ex. one generation's children are the next generation's leaders." in Marriage and Family in the Biblical World. and the widow's son resuscitated by Elijah). Ken M. The only young person whose actual age is given is Joseph." in Families in Ancient Israel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. The term na'ar seems to comprise a larger sphere of meanings. So one meaning seems to be that a na'ar refers to the age a person anywhere from infancy to immediately preceding marriage. 24:5. 37:2. 4:21). The Family in First Temple Israel. Yeled can refer to a fetus (Ex. Judg 8:20. several interesting strands emerge. yet crucial role that children play throughout her history.the Lord. 78-80. is always referred to by David as a na'ar.3 Na'ar connotes very similar ideas. and yet 2 Joseph Blenkinsopp. 2003). 21:12).4 From above dissection we can conclude that there is an unassuming. 33:11. young Daniel shows himself wiser than the ancients of Israel in saving Susanna (Dn. Gen 34:19). Est 2:2. Etiology As we examine just who is the object of this spiritual formation. presumably some years older. 1997). Finally. Jesus and the Children In the New Testament(harmonizing with the old Testament).27). did not find a better image than that of a young child who sleeps on his mother's bosom (Ps 131:2). 66. It can pertain to infants (Ichabod." (l Kg 12:8-24). Campbell (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press. Isa 37:6). a high point of Messianic prophecy is the birth of Emmanuel. a seventeen-year-old na'ar according to Gen. 1 Sam 21:5-6). Israel was no different. ISam 1:24. Jud. 3:44-50). God does not hesitate to choose certain children as the first beneficiaries and messengers of His revelation" and of His salvation' Little Samuel receives the Word of Yahweh and faithfully passes it on (1Sam 1-3). Marriage and Family in Ancient Israel. 8:20) and those capable of rape (Shechem. even those who are still immature (the son of Gideon who was afraid to kill.

The disciples want to know who is the greater in the Kingdom. The narrative parts which are inserted among the five Discourses describe the practice of Jesus and show how he practiced and embodied the New Law in his life. where the poor and the little ones live. and also the children. to the heights. Jesus asks that these “little ones” should always be the centre of the concern of the communities because “The Father in Heaven does not will that one of these little ones should belost”(Mt18. of reconciliation and of gratuitous love. • Here. 1: The question of the disciples which provokes the teaching of Jesus. Jesus recalls Psalm 91. The love of Jesus for the little ones cannot be explained. Children have no merit. It is a sign that at that time many little ones no longer identified themselves with the community and sought another refuge. • Matthew 18. they must grow down and toward the periphery. • Matthew 18. which is very evident in the Gospels. they will be the greater in the Kingdom! The reason is the following: “Anyone who receives one of these little ones receives me”. is in order to make them understand that among the followers of Jesus the spirit of service should prevail. they do not belong to the world of the great. 9). it . • The Gospel gives the first part of the Discourse of the Community (Mt 18. 2-5: The fundamental criterion: the little one and the greater one. the gift of self. of pardon. It is the complete gratuity of the love of God which manifests itself and asks to be imitated in the community of those who call themselves disciples of Jesus. According to Matthew. Jesus identifies himself with them. 6-9: Do not scandalize the little ones. Matthew keeps a very hard phrase of Jesus: “Anyone who scandalizes even one of these little ones who believe in me. Instead of growing up. 1-14) which has as key word “the little ones”. 12-14: The parable of the one hundred sheep. it would be better for him to have a mill stone tied around his neck and then be thrown into the sea”. but also the poor persons. The disciples have to become children. the Discourse of the Community. The whole Discourse of the Community. those who are not important in society and in the community. • Matthew 18. The little ones take Yahweh as their refuge and make the most High their fortress (Ps 91. The simple fact of this question reveals that they had not understood anything or very little the message of Jesus. The little ones are not only the children. in Chapter 18 of the Gospel of Matthew begins the fourth great discourse of the New Law. Therefore we shall study Matthew 18:1-5:10:1214. • Matthew 18. To scandalize the little ones means: to be the cause for them to lose their faith in God and to abandon the community.14). 3-7). In this way. As an adult. this parable reveals the joy of God on the conversion of a sinner (Lk 15. According to Luke. Jesus adopts the same attitude toward children as God has. • Matthew 18. The disciples ask for a criterion so as to be able to measure the importance of the persons in the community: “Who is the greater in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus answers that the criterion are the little ones! The little ones are not socially important. Mainly in the Gospel of Mathew. 10-11: The angels of the little ones are in the presence of the Father. without seeking one‟s own interest and one‟s own promotion.mysteriously independent of them in His dependence on His Father (2:43-51).

Such is the true humility without which one cannot become a son of the heavenly Father. .15) and receive it in all simplicity as a gift of the Father instead of demanding it as due. p. but woe to one who scandalizes or despises them (18:6-10). new York.151. In other words. What does it mean to become like a child? The child's low status in society makes her a role model. the little ones should be the pastoral priority of the Community. paulist press . "Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. The secret of true grandeur is "making oneself little" like a child (Mt 18.reveals that the Father does not want that not even one of the little ones be lost. The Child as a model of discipleship One of the most startling things that Jesus says in the Gospel has to do with children. 14 Given this culture. of the Church. Children are the symbols of the genuine disciples": "It is to such as they that the kingdom of heaven belongs" (Mt 19. thus revealing that they are on the same level when it comes to entering the kingdom. moreover.2003. Central to Jesus' ministry was a reversal of social order. Children are a part of "the least of these. little and disciple seem at times to be equivalent (cf Mt 10. Rubio. Jesus‟ society regarded children as small adults in training and obligated parents to practice strict discipline. A theology of marriage and family." "the actual envoy of the kingdom. Children's ability to receive. a refusal to honor status. for in his teaching. Children were understood to be simple or nonrational creatures who stood in need of training."Christ blesses the children (Mk 10. Jesus' advocacy of the child as a model follower becomes all the more striking. Jesus suggests quite plainly that children have qualities adults ought to develop. he is telling them again that "the greatest among you must become like the youngest.5) in order to get into this kingdom. The true disciples are precisely "the very little ones" to whom the Father has graciously wished to reveal. In the language of the gospel. and their dependence on others all of these qualities force adults to consider who they are in relation to God and other people. an insistence that those on the bottom of society had something that those on the top lacked.41). They should be in the centre of the concern of all.25f). When Jesus asks his adult followers to look more closely at children.14)." and this means that they ought to be heard. To those who thought of children as objects requiring care and formation.5 Jesus' attention to children: contains a radical message in the reversal of the usual relationship of adult to child and represents a sharp reevaluation of the pivotal social value of honor. 4). Jesus tells his disciples. as He did before to Daniel. 16).42 and Mk 9. Blessed are those who receive one of these little ones (Mt 18:5: cf 25:40. He must "return to the state of children" (Mt 18:3) and consent to be "reborn" (In 3. Indeed one should "accept the Kingdom as a little child" (Mk 10. It is not merely the learning of a lesson from the child but a turning around to adopt the way of the 5 Julie H. "the child becomes the criterion of discipleship. His secrets which are hidden from the wise (Mt 11. their innocence. their humility." In Mark 10: 15. and the leader like the one who serves" (Luke 22:26).

The dependence of the child on his father and mother for his very life and for the attainment of maturity is at the root of the grave obligation which binds the parents to provide for his temporal welfare and to secure. Children’s Spiritual Formation and Role of the Parents God's formative activity with respect to His people‟s character is to a large degree revealed in discussion about the family. 6:20). by natural law. 2:651. towards marriage in Christ." The role parents played in the teaching of the Torah emphasizes the reason why the family unit was considered to be ordained by God at the creation of the universe and why its preservation was to be guaranteed. though mothers still had a voice in teaching the son. 2. Paul is particularly aware of the state of Imperfection that childhood represents (1 Col 13: 11. Freedman (New York: Doubleday. 46. "Ethics (OT). 1992). 20-25. USA. Parents must provide a truly Catholic atmosphere for the proper rearing of their offspring. for serious reasons and due precautions being taken. Can. the priory press.60 In Isaiah 28:23-29. Deut 4:9. Ex 10:2. in Gen. his religious. the charity of Christ should urge them to realize that 'charity begins at home. To care for the soul or spiritual welfare of the child is an obligation of parents.7 6 7 Temba L. civil and physical education (cf. The effect of home environment upon children. 32:7. 1962." Jesus gave special attention to the children and He always loved them. Provision must be made for his necessary intellectual education according to the standards of the society in which he will live-as a Catholic. 1." in The Anchor Bible Dictionary. 4. ed. Nature itself as well as positive law obliges the parents to care for the physical. modesty and religion-so that their children may guide themselves by their conduct. 18:19 God chooses Abraham "so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice.14). unless the Ordinary. Yahweh taught the children of Israel. He urges Christians to concentrate on their growth in order to arrive at the "fullness of Christ" (Eph. 1113). The child should be given sacraments in due time. 3.child both in ready trust and dependency as the only way into the Kingdom. 4.6 When the child reached adolescence. p. and in identifying with the weak and the dispossessed as itself the way of the Kingdom. especially the susceptible young. Above all. the parents acquire authority over them. Augustine Rock. by all the means in their power. 12:26. chastity. 4: 12-16). . From the earliest age he should be taught his prayers and the fundamental doctrine and practices of religion and morality. cannot be overestimated. For example. This means that parents are bound. permits otherwise (Can. to send their children to Catholic schools. learning skills and developing character required for responsible adulthood (eg. a son would spend more time with the father. David N. They must themselves furnish an example of virtueparticularly of the virtues of justice. one reads "As the fathers and mothers of the households instructed their children. 1374).1: Eph:4. Mafico. mental and spiritual wellbeing of their children. Pro 1:8. As authors of the life of their offspring.175 . 13:8. 6:7. Gal.

who encourage them. Our culture. Correction when necessary. Paul. In the Old Testament.5." admonishes St. shows a subtle. . lest they be discouraged" (Col. for the tender and delicate spirit of the child may be broken by such treatment. Excessive mildness is an open abdication of responsibility. is as detrimental to the child as it is unwise and selfish of the parent. Jesus took the children in his arms. III. they lead them to the eternal torments of hell. but to greed and an increase of wealth. and sometimes not so subtle. Instead of conducting them to heaven. to fail to reprove or chastise him when a fault is committed. however. Too great harshness: This extreme is also to be avoided. however. and how can we implement her wisdom as we teach our children about God? Contemporary society seems reluctant to turn to children and do as Jesus did and asked us to do. they leave them rather their own wickedness and crimes for an inheritance. are oblivious of their good name and of their eternal salvation. ." Conclusion Where does this reflection on „Child as disciple' pedagogy leads us? What does it have to teach us about God in our own lives? What can modern-day parents learn from how Israel passed on its faith to her children. Parents are so to provide for the future of the child that he has a reasonable opportunity to live decently and spiritually. fearful of everything. of course. 4. One 8 Catechism of the Council of Trent. Over-severity. and who. "Fathers. nor to honorable employment. riches and an ample and splendid fortune. they embraced him . whether the parents wish or foresee the result or not. instead of bequeathing wealth to their children. that they cannot dictate to their children the choice of a state of life. provided their children are rich and wealthy. not to piety and religion. They should realize. Can anything more shameful be thought or expressed? It is true to say of such parents that. Bk. "provoke not your children to anger. Heli. treating of the fourth commandment."Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. was visited with the heaviest chastisements by God for his over-indulgence to his sons (c£.). The Carrying Out of Parental Duties8 The Catechism of the Council of Trent. and he told his followers that when they embraced a child. 3:21). indifference to children. may easily lead to a complete loss of influence over the children. the high priest. I Kings 4:18 ff. even coming to hate his parents. and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me" (Mark 9:36-37). Chap. points out three things parents should avoid in fulfilling their duties to their children: Too much indulgence: To make an idol of the child. and he may become abject. Unworthy ambitions for their children: "There are many whose sole concern is to leave their children wealth. but too much harshness may look like-may even be-unholy revenge upon the child.

Anything that raises self-worth in a child will in some way point to God. Edinburgh. however. 1996. Without having laid the proper relational foundation by spending time with their teenager. what values to make central. not just tradition-receivers. what traditions to teach. 2004. ed.author posits that our inability to accept children comes from a reluctance to accept weakness in ourselves. nor do they have full responsibility for them or power over them. Rubio. John Paul II claims that children "offer their own precious contribution to building up the family community and even to the sanctification of parents. Therefore." The implication here is that children are not only served by families. that it is at best on the periphery? And at the latest when they leave the niches and reserves arranged for them by education.10 When we speak about what children contribute to families.2.p. children ultimately belong to God and are formed not just by parents but by a church community. 10 Julie H. even unknowingly. Rather. they do not particularly emphasize the relationship between parents and children. t. parents spending time with their teenage children is the single most important practical step to take.11 Finally. if there is one. & t. children force clarification of values because they represent the future.. They have to become tradition-bearers.26. a parent's lecture on what it means to have faith is likely to fall on deaf ears. In the hustle and bustle of today's world. clearly children quickly assumed a central place in thinking about the family. paulist press . 39.. the tradition holds on to the idea that parents do not own children. teenagers are just as busy and strained for time as adults." Is the state of our society such that children can really feel accepted and well in it? Don't they often feel more or less vividly that there is basically no place for them. Practical Suggestions Parents need to spend time with their teenagers.. but also serve them. or. in the family. When Parents pray for their kids is an enormous boost of self-esteem and self-worth. 12 Health dialogue. On the Family.2003. new York. Parents need to pray with their teenagers. p. A theology of marriage and family. The pope highlights one particularly powerful example of this when he points out that children are signs of the reality of their parents' love. concern.72-73. . Parents need to take responsibility for the spiritual development of their children.p.clark. Stephen barton. parents must decide what stories to tell. and respect for children. children and childhood in the new testament. and that means they have to know what is important and what is not. they are regarded as a burdensome disruption of the peace . no.151 11 John Paul II. because it is foundational to all other steps to passing on faith. Still. 12 9 James francis. Aren't special demands made here on a church which has received and has to hand on the good news of the unconditional acceptance of children?9 The Christian Scriptures offer a model of care. no." Faced with those who will outlive them and carryon their name. In the Christian tradition.

There are countless other suggestions that one could draw from the study. It is difficult to offer blanket suggestions and practical tips on how to parent knowing that every child is different as well as every situation and every parent. The effectiveness of the suggestions given here depends in large part on the attitude of the parent and teenager. .