I went to church this morning and sat in the side aisle where my children and I have regularly sat over the years. At one point in the service my eyes were drawn to a stained glass window which is based on Jesus saying ‘Suffer little children to come unto me’. The window is divided into two parts and from where we sit, the second half of the window is obscured. This morning I was reminded of a conversation I had with my son a few years ago when he first became confident at reading. He kept on looking at the window and eventually said to me, ‘Why does it say that? Why?’. I tried to explain that the language was a bit old-fashioned, but it was basically saying that Jesus wanted to allow and encourage children to spend time with him even though some other people thought he should concentrate on grown-ups who were considered more important then. My son sort of understood, but kept saying, ‘But why? Why would he say that?’. He then read out what he could see on the window: ‘Suffer little children! Suffer little children!’ It was only at that point that I realised he hadn’t got the whole message from the window and thought that the first half was some kind of instruction to him!
At the time I thought this was really funny, but actually I think there’s a serious point to be made about it. It’s not just my son, but many, many people who believe that the christian message is primarily a harsh, punitive and destructive one. It’s not just people outside the church who think this: there are many people who are deeply committed christians who believe this subconsciously, even though they’d never say so (even to themselves).
Perhaps this Lent one of the things we can think about is the ways in which we sometimes unwittingly obscure the message of Jesus.