In this continuation of Jesus in Boulder, I want to look at the claim that Jesus did, on occasion, turn people away, as Fr. Breslin writes in a recent Lenten meditation. Then I want to discuss whether, if Jesus turned people away, did he turn away their children in addition? First we must determine, is it the case that Jesus, in general, does turn people away? Fr. Breslin wrote,
"Actually Jesus did turn people away. In Mark 5 Jesus healed the demoniac, and after the healing the man wanted to become a disciple. Jesus said, No, go back to your own people and tell them all that the Lord in His mercy has done for you. And when the rich young man wanted to follow Jesus, He told him, Go first and sell what you have and give it to the poor and then come follow me. And in John 6, Jesus taught a very hard message so that most of those following Him turned away and would no longer walk in His company. He did not soften His message so as to win them back."
I do not think any of these passages points to Jesus turning people away, though some of them might turn away because of an unwillingness to accept the whole of the Gospel. Jesus wants all people to come to him, but they must be willing to accept the truth.
In Mark 5, it is clear that the demoniac was a gentile who was healed by Jesus and now wants to “be with him” (5:18). Jesus does not refuse a disciple here, but rather sends this newly healed gentile back to his “friends" in order that he might "tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you” (5:19). Refused a disciple? I think not. I think he produced a missionary: “he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed” (5:20). This is a disciple who was sent, in Mark’s telling, to begin the gentile mission.
The rich young man turned away from Jesus’ teaching because he did not want to sell his many possessions (Matthew 19:22: “he went away grieving”), just as the disciples of Jesus turned away because “this teaching is difficult” (John 6:60). John makes it clear that “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him” (6:66). In both cases, people turn away from Jesus; he does not send them away. I am not certain that any of these examples fit the situation. The only examples that fit are that of 1 Corinthians 5, as I wrote about earlier, and the related passage of Matthew 18:15-17, which speak of church discipline culminating in excommunication. In these examples, those within the community who refuse to follow the teachings of the Church can be excluded from the Church. This might be called “turning people away,” but there is a proper canonical process for this. This process, as far as I know, does not extend to their children, nor can you find any teaching of Jesus which rejects the children of those who have been "turned away".
So, I grant that in certain situations, people are excluded from the Church, excommunicated, which I do not believe has happened to the parents of these two children. Let us say it does happen. Even in that case, why should this punishment of exclusion be visited upon their children, when they have done nothing wrong and Jesus calls upon us to accept the priority of the family of God? Indeed, he calls upon us not to “despise one of these little ones” (Matthew 18:10) and says that “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5). Note that these verses appear in the same chapter in Matthew in which Jesus speaks of church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17). What have these children done? They have become pawns of the culture wars and it breaks my heart that this now takes priority over the kingdom of God.
John W. Martens