Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Just a Touch

“13-Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. 14-But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 15-"Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it." 16-And He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them.
(Mark 10:13-16)

The children are brought to Jesus and the disciples quickly rebuke them. Perhaps the disciples, because of the demand upon the Master, created a system to weed out the people without pressing needs. Maybe an internal checklist: “Is this person dead? Are they dieing? Are their demons manifesting?” and so forth, with head colds and needy little kids at the bottom of the list. A group of children, this was far from Code Red and ICU. “Lady! What are you thinking! Can’t you see we’re busy here? This is serious stuff! Don’t you realize He’s the Messiah? We don’t have time today for little kids. There are serious needs here today!” Maybe they didn’t say these exact words. What does the word rebuke mean to you?

Jesus’ response is remarkable.
Rather than applauding the disciples’ efforts in ministry crisis and efficiency, Jesus seems to offer His own rebuke, only not to those who brought the children, but to those who were sending them away – namely the disciples. Jesus said,

"Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 15-"Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it." 16-And He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them.”

Why was it such a big deal for Jesus to touch and bless these children? Does He know something we don’t?

The young desperately crave physical affection. Howard Maxwell of Los Angeles is a man in tune with his times. So when his four-year-old daughter Melinda acquired a fixation for “The Three Little Pigs” and demanded that he read it to her night after night, Mr. Maxwell, very pleased with himself, tape-recorded the story. When Melinda next asked for it, he simply switched on the playback. This worked for a couple of nights, but then one evening Melinda pushed the storybook at her father.

“Now, honey,” he said, “you know how to turn on the recorder.”

Yes,” said Melinda, “but I can’t sit on its lap.”[i]

Alan McGinnis makes an interesting observation,

The young of all mammals snuggle and cuddle against the body of the mother and against the bodies of their siblings. Almost every animal enjoys being stroked or otherwise having its skin pleasurably stimulated. Dogs appear to be insatiable in their appetite for petting, cats will purr for it, and dolphins love to be gently stroked.

During the 19th century more than half of the infants died in their first year of life from a disease called marasmus, a Greek word meaning “wasting away.” As late as the 1920’s, according to Montagu, the death rate for infants under one year of age in various U.S. foundling institutions was close to 100%! Dr. Henry Chapin’s detective work on this alarming phenomenon is a fascinating tale.

A distinguished New York pediatrician, Dr. Chapin noted that the infants were kept in sterile, neat, tidy wards, but were rarely picked up. Chapin brought in women to hold the babies, coo to them, and stroke them, and the mortality rate dropped drastically.

Who was responsible for all those babies who had died unnecessarily? Not the foundling home directors, for they were operating on the best “scientific” information available to them. The real villain was one Emmett Holt Sr., professor of pediatrics at Columbia University. Holt was the author of the booklet The Care and Feeding of Children, which was first published in 1894 and was in its 15th edition in 1935. during its long ascendancy, it was the supreme authority, the Dr. Spock of its time. And it is in this book that the author urged mothers to abolish the cradle and refuse to pick up the baby when it cried, for fear of spoiling it with too much handling. Tender loving care would have been considered “unscientific.”

We now know that small children become irritable and hyperactive without adequate body contact. In various experiments with normal and subnormal youngsters, those who had the most physical contact with parents or attendants learned to walk and talk the earliest and had the highest IQs.[ii]

We can live only in relationships. We need each other. A rather crude and cruel experiment was carried out by Emperor Frederick, who ruled the Roman Empire in the thirteenth century. He wanted to know what man’s original language was: Hebrew, Greek, or Latin?

He decided to isolate a few infants from the sound of the human voice. He reasoned that they would eventually speak the natural tongue of man. Wet nurses who were sworn to absolute silence were obtained, and though it was difficult for them, they abided by the rule. The infants never heard a word—not a sound from a human voice. Within several months they were all dead.[iii]

For many the idea of “touching” another person has come to carry some pretty negative undercurrents.

q Why is this?

q Obviously, touch plays a powerful element in the health of newborns and infants, what role does it play in the health of people older than five?

q What about you personally?

[i] Alan Loy McGinnis, The Friendship Factor, Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing, 1979, 87.
[ii] Ibid., 85-86.
[iii] Joe E. Trull

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