The middle section of Mark's Gospel, 8:32-10:52, presents Jesus and His disciples journeying to Jerusalem. Three times in this section Jesus predicts his coming suffering and death. Each time the disciples misunderstand Jesus and the meaning of the cross. The second prediction 9:30-31, and the subsequent misunderstandings include two passages involving children.
After Jesus predicts his coming death, the 12 Apsotles argue about who is the greatest. Jesus says the one who wants to be first must be last and servant of all (9:35). To illustrate his teaching Jesus places a child in their midst. At that time a child had no social status. Only adults had status. Secondly, Jesus takes the child in his arms and teaches that receiving a child is receiving Jesus and in turn receiving God. This clearly implies that the child, lowly status and all, somehow possesses the kingdom of God. The combination of the two sayings means that to be disciples and show forth God, one must accept the status of a child.
Further on another story shows that the disciples missed the message on children having the kingdom (10:13-16). People were bringing children to Jesus so that he could bless them. The disciples try to stop the people, rebuking them. This is a strong verb, used when Jesus rebuked demons and even when Jesus had corrected Peter for trying to deny Jesus' coming death. Apparently, the disciples did not remember or grasp the message from the earlier incident with a child. Jesus sees them and is indignant, angry. He says, "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God." Jesus makes it clear that children, even without status, possess the kingdom of God.
Jesus forces the disciples even further by saying, "Whoever does not receive the kingdom as a child shall not enter it." Then Jesus hugs the children and blesses them. The question is: How are we to understand the phrase "as a child?" Many would use the first story to say that this means "as a child receives it," that is, humbly. However, the words, "as a child," in the Greek text, can read also "as I receive a child." Either translation works in the Greek; one must make a choice.
When learning to write, grammar school exercises in the first century taught that a saying and an action in a story, must match. Since Jesus receives the children, "as a child" should mean "as I receive a child;" then action and saying match. Hence, "Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God as I welcome a child, shall not enter that kingdom." A further argument for this translation, comes from school exercises on how to present a persuasive argument. One way to make a point is to give a counterexample. The next story in Mark, that of the rich man who cannot give up his great possessions and walks away from following Jesus, is just such a counter example - not welcoming the kingdom. Disciples are to welcome the teachings of Jesus, as one welcomes a child.
Sometimes in our reflections, we need to resist the movement to immediately spiritualize a passage. We could easily loose sight of Jesus with the actual children. We just plain should not hinder children coming to us; we should welcome them. And what about status and riches interfering with welcoming children, welcoming the message of the kingdom? The recent public outcry over the treatment of children at our southern border clearly is righteous indignation.