In paragraph 18, we come to the end of the subsection titled, “Your Children are as the Shoots of an Olive Tree.” We continue on the theme of the previous paragraph. We are talking about responsibilities. Not rights. Not possession:
18. The Gospel goes on to remind us that children are not the property of a family, but have their own lives to lead. Jesus is a model of obedience to his earthly parents, placing himself under their charge (cf. Lk 2:51), but he also shows that children’s life decisions and their Christian vocation may demand a parting for the sake of the Kingdom of God (cf. Mt 10:34-37; Lk 9:5962). Jesus himself, at twelve years of age, tells Mary and Joseph that he has a greater mission to accomplish apart from his earthly family (cf. Lk 2:48-50). In this way, he shows the need for other, deeper bonds even within the family: “My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk 8:21). All the same, in the concern he shows for children – whom the societies of the ancient Near East viewed as subjects without particular rights and even as family property – Jesus goes so far as to present them as teachers, on account of their simple trust and spontaneity towards others. “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3-4).
I think these words show a proper balance for the child’s role in the family. By framing child-rearing in terms of the development of a person, we move away from human cultural constructs like power, authority, inheritance, class, and yes, even legal rights.
In my own experience as a parent, to speak of rights is to miss the larger point. Do I have rights over another person? I think not. Parents have responsibilities where young children are concerned. But as young people grow up, healthy relationships demand a certain evolution and progression to something different. The obedience of a child, for example, is properly placed in a context of the girl or boy’s sense of self-determination and life discernment. Otherwise, youth obedience to elders has no constructive context, except for the ego of the older generation or the possible suppression of the new.
Any readers have their observations about this passage?