Canilla: Jesus! Jesus!… Wait!
Jesus: What’s the matter, Canilla?
Canilla: Teach me the three fingers’ trick.
Jesus: Again? I already taught you that yesterday.
Canilla: But I forgot.
Jesus: I’m gonna do it tomorrow.
Canilla: No, I want it now.
Jesus: Okay, watch it closely so you will learn… You hide your thumb this way… Then twist your little finger this way and…
Canilla: I know it! I know it already… Look… Am I doing it right?
Jesus: Better than I do. Now, go and teach it to Nino, who still hasn’t learned to do it….
Canilla: Yes, I’ll show this to Nino.
Jesus: And then in the afternoon you go to Peter’s house with him. I wanna know if you’re learning how to write the alphabet in the synagogue.
Canilla: Goodbye, Jesus!
Jesus: Goodbye, Canilla!
I think the children of Capernaum became Jesus’ friends in such a short time. They always followed him so he would teach them a trick or tell a story. The boys were running to and from the street the whole day. The rabbi met them only once a week to teach them how to read, while they did nothing but play and do mischief the rest of the day. The same thing happened in Peter’s house.
Mingo: You’re a pig, pig, a filthy pig!
Their four sons were moving about from morning till night and not a day or night passed without someone crying, laughing or picking a fight with one of the brothers. Rufina spent the day running from the kitchen to the garden and back, also picking a fight with them. Old grandma Rufa had her own chores to attend to. When Peter returned from his fishing, he was always in for a surprise….
Peter: What’s it this time, woman? How did the children behave today?
Rufina: Like rogues, as always. Little Simon wounded Mingo on the head with a piece of iron metal….
Pedro: He has a cut on his head?… And what did you do?
Rufina: And what could I do? I washed his head with water from the lake and put a patch on it… Oh Peter, I’m afraid these boys will kill each other…
Peter: No, but they’re gonna kill us first. Oh dammit! What little brats. Sito! Sito! Come over here!
Rufina: Don’t hurt them, Peter. He already received a good strappin’ from his gran’ma… Leave him alone…
Peter: They gotta learn their lesson, Rufina. We have to correct them while we can…
Rufina: But they’re still kids. It doesn’t really matter yet…
Peter: Sito, I told you to come over here!
Rufina: Listen, instead of beating him, why don’t you just pick his lice. Mamma was too busy to do it. I’m sure his head is full of them….
One day, like any other day, the three daughters of my brother James went to play with Peter and Rufina’s sons. When the seven children got together, the garden of old Jonas’ house looked like the Sea of Galilee on a stormy day…
Little Simon: Now, I laugh and everybody cries! Ha, Ho, Ha, ha..!
A Girl: Now, do it the other way around! I cry and you all laugh! Boo… Hoo…
Another Girl: I’m bored. Let’s play something else, Sito!
Mingo: Let’s play soldiers!
Little Simon: Okay!
Girl: What about us?
Little Simon: Mila and you will be the lions… Come on! Let’s go look for some swords!
Girl: What about me: what am I gonna be?
Little Simon: You’re gonna be another lion!..The swords! Where are the swords?!
After a while, at mid-afternoon, Jesus arrived in Peter’s house…
Jesus: How’s everything, Rufina?
Rufina: I’m here, Jesus, in front of the stove, as always…
Jesus: Hmmm…! The soup smells good…!
Rufina: You can stay for dinner if you want… Dinner’ll soon be ready. Everything gets delayed because of these boys. Right now, Reuben is suffering from diarrhea, and he takes most of my time. Look…
Jesus: Maybe he’s got worms…
Rufina: Of course, what else could it be… It’s either the worms or some other sickness. This never ends…! Well, Jesus, are you gonna stay for dinner?
Jesus: No Rufina, thanks. I came to look for some poles I asked Peter to keep for me here. I need them in my work. Would you know where he put them?
Rufina: Oh Jesus, with so many things in my head, I don’t remember where they are now, but I saw them yesterday… Why don’t you ask Peter?
Peter: Oh yes, your poles… They were just here in this corner!… Where are they now?
Jesus: I wanted to do the repair that I promised our neighbor on the other side… while it’s still early…
Peter: Yes, of course! But where the hell are they now? Rufina!
Rufina: Don’t you ask me, Peter, I dunno…!
Nina: Ay, ay, ay!….
Little Simon: I killed you, I killed you!
Nina: Oh, Uncle Peter, look at Sito! Uncle Peter!
Peter: Damn these children!… Little Simon!
Jesus: Peter, look, she’s bleeding…
Peter: Rufina, Rufina! Run!… Little Simon, come here quick!… Here are your poles, Jesus! They are all broken! Okay, who gave you permission to play with these poles?
Little Simon: They were our swords, Papa!…
Peter: Swords, huh?… And what were these swords for?
Little Simon: So that we could kill the lions. She was the lion.
Peter: These poles are not yours, damn! They belong to Jesus and he needs them for his work… Alright, pull down your pants, quick! You too, Mingo, show me your buttocks!
Rufina: Don’t beat him, Peter. He’s too small…
Peter: Yeah, he’s too small to be beaten, but look at the mischief he’s doing… Rufina, take the girls to their house… Now, to hell with these boys! Here, take this… so you will learn to respect what’s not yours, dammit!!
Peter: Insolent!… disobedient!… you wretch!…
Jesus: That’s enough, Peter…
Peter: Bad seed! You good for nothing…!
Jesus: Peter, for God’s sake, I can replace those poles…
Peter: You shut up too, Jesus! These boys gotta learn their lesson!
Mingo: Oh, oh, oh… ohhh…!
Peter: Now, you two will stay here kneeling on these stones until I tell you. Do you hear?… Do you hear me well?
Little Simon: Papa, we’re sorry… I’m scared… It’s dark here… Please forgive us…
Peter: So you’re scared, huh? Well, you’re gonna stay here till I tell you. And you better be ready, because the moment you move, the witch will come and take you with her long fork to the bottom of the lake!
Rufina: Don’t scare them, Peter…! How dare you, Peter!
Little Simon and Mingo were left in the yard, with a punishment of kneeling on stones. Peter went inside the house… Jesus was beside Rufina by the stove…
Peter: Pff!… I’m sorry, Jesus. Your work was ruined. I’ll get other poles for you…
Jesus: Don’t worry, Peter. I’m sorry for the children. You have beaten them very hard. And they’re still… kids.
Peter: They’re kids, alright, but look at the mischief they do. No Jesus, don’t defend them.
Jesus: Forgive them, man… They didn’t know it was wrong…
Peter: Right, but they did it, and that’s it.
Rufina: Yes, Peter. Listen to Jesus, and let the children in. They’ll catch cold outside. Come on, forgive them. Tell them that the soup is ready…
Jesus: Come on, Peter… soften up… Don’t be too hard with the boys…
Little Simon: And then, Papa… Mila said “grr”, and Mingo took her by the tail and…
Jesus: See, Peter? They’ve forgotten their punishment… Children forget… and forgive so easily. That’s the good thing about them.
In my country, children hardly mattered, and that’s the truth. They were taught the basic things, they received a good beating and we grown-ups never conversed with them nor asked their opinion. They mattered only because when they grew up, they could work. But not with Jesus. He could see something great in children.
Every time Jesus went to Peter’s house he loved to chat with the children. He would sit by the yard under the lemon tree and soon Peter’s boys and their neighbors, as well as James’ daughters, would come running to him. Jesus gladly obliged them with his stories. That day, Jesus was teaching them some tongue twisters….
I don’t know how Jesus managed to attract the children to himself. I think he acted a bit like them and played with those brats like he was one of them… That day, when Peter and Andrew came home from fishing, they looked through the window and saw the children swarming like bees as they flocked around Jesus….
Rufina: I wonder why Jesus doesn’t get married and have his own children. He surely knows how to pamper them. Look how fascinated they are with him, what with the stories he tells them each day…!
Peter: Well, they better get back their senses right now. We gotta discuss something in Zebedee’s house right now and Jesus has to come with us. Hey, kids…. beat it..! Everyone… and don’t bother us! Out… out… out of here!
Jesus: But the children are behaving well here. Let them stay with me.
Little Simon: Papa, Papa! I just learned a new tongue-twister today!… That night…
Jesus: Oh Peter, you just don’t know…
Peter: Oh hell, you’re even more patient than Job with these children!
Jesus: The truth is, I’m very fond of children, Peter…
Peter: Of course, because they’re not your children. If you had your own to support today and tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, then it would be different.
Jesus: Peter, Peter…
Peter: Yes, I know, they’re still hiding under the skirts of their mother and…
Jesus: …And that’s the best thing about them. They’re kids and they’re not greater than what they really are. And unlike us grown-ups, they’re happy being such. We think we’re important, we become serious, we crack our heads solving the most difficult problems in the world… while this kid, well, look at him: he sleeps, for all he cares about the world….
Rufina: He’s tired, Jesus… He fell asleep sucking milk…
Jesus: See how good he looks with his mother, Peter… He fears nothing in his mother’s arms, even on your lap… Sometimes I think that the entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven oughta be small too, so small that only the children could go through it.
Yes, that’s it… While we adults have to bend our heads, leaving behind our pride, grudges, fears, everything… Yes, we have to make ourselves small, like Mingo… or Little Simon… or Mila… so we can get through that door.
Before he went to sleep, Jesus caressed Mingo, held him in his arms for a while and kissed him. Oblivious of everything, Mingo slept soundly on his mother’s lap.
In Jesus’ milieu, children mattered very little. Certainly, they were considered as God’s blessing, but a human’s worth became a reality only when reaching majority age. From the point of view of the law, of a person’s obligations, and religious rights, lack of concern included children, common in the writings of the period: “the deafmutes, idiots and the young.” Side by side with the old people were the sick, the slaves, women, the crippled, the homosexual, the blind, etc. In the same manner that Jesus had an authentically revolutionary attitude towards women, his actions towards children – very much related to how he related with women – was surprising during his time. As children, he made them the privileged heirs of the Kingdom of God. This means that children are closer to God than adults, and as such they already had their own worth, and not just for what they would be when they grew up. Jesus’ position had no precedent in the traditions of his ancestors. It was absolutely original.
Jesus’ attitude toward children was not an empty theory nor an idea floating in the air. It was put into practice. Jesus shared much of his time playing with children, laughing and joking with them, talking to them about their small problems. These moments of sharing – devoid of sermons and many words – show how adults’ attitudes should be towards children. It is an attitude founded on the respect for their smallness, without expecting from them what they cannot give at their early age. In other words, to follow the classic formula of Paul: In order to win the children, be like a child. (1 Cor 9:23).
The children who were close to Jesus were not like those found in pictures: well kept, in spotless tunics, piously asking for a blessing with such angelic faces. The children in the barrio of Capernaum were street children, inured to wanting and to working at an early age, untidy and creatures full of lice wearing rundown sandals, like present-day street children in our cities, like our peasant boys who are consumed by work and hunger even before they outgrow their infancy. Peter’s or James’ children, or those of Jesus’ other disciples, must have been like them, undergoing the same preoccupations and joys of raising a family.
When Jesus talked to adults about “being like children” in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, he was not asking them to be as pure as children (as in being chaste). The idea that the child is more chaste than the adult, in this sense, is alien to Jewish thought. Rather, Jesus is referring more to the attitude that we must have before God – a Father who welcomes us in his arms. Being a child basically means learning to utter “Abba” once again, or “Papa” or “Daddy.” Jesus always addressed God with this word, full of trust, affection and familiarity. “Abba” is the Aramaic word by which the children call their father and it is the first word that the baby babbles. Addressing the Lord in this manner means that he has set aside all fears of a bad God who takes account of our failures. It conveys seeing in God a home, a refuge, and a big heart.
(Mt 19:13-15; Mk 10:13-16; Lk 18:15-17; Mt 18:1-5; Mk 9:33-37; Lk 9:46-48)