What About the Children?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 — Week of Proper 7, Year Two

Isabel Florence Hapgood, Ecumenist and Journalist, 1929

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 973)

Psalms 97, 99, [100] (morning) 94, [95] (evening)

Numbers 16:20-35

Romans 4:1-12

Matthew 19:23-30

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

I remember how bothered I was as a child when I first read the story of about the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram that we have for today’s first reading. I was at my grandmother’s house, reading from a children’s Bible. The book had been my father’s when he was a child. It told the biblical stories in a straightforward way, using vocabulary that was accessible for a younger reader. There were illustrations, mostly black and white, that were pretty literal and meant to be as historically accurate as possible. Some of the pictures were pretty scary.

The story of this rebellion in the wilderness was pretty clear. These three were challenging Moses, but more than that, by challenging Moses, they were disobeying God’s intention, since Moses was God’s chosen. The haunting part about it for me was the image of Korah, Dathan and Abiram standing at the entrance of their tents along with “their wives, their children, and their little ones.” Moses prays for God to judge between them, and the earth opens up and swallows them all alive. Children and all.

I don’t remember if there was an accompanying illustration, but I have in my mind a terrible image of their shocked and fearful faces (in black and white) as the earth disappears under their feet and they begin to fall to their living deaths. I wondered why God, who could do all things, couldn’t have thought of another way — maybe lightning — to punish just the ones who had done the wrong, not the wives and children.

Yet children are always dragged along into the damnable consequences of their parent’s activities and choices. When “insurgents” meet in a home in Afghanistan and our intelligence learns of the meeting, the drone bomber destroys everyone in the house, wives and children included. When the Sudanese military bombs a defenseless village and the Janjaweed militia follow through with raids on horse or camelback, women are raped and children are killed or enslaved. When a Mexican family seeking something better finds a way into this country, their children may grow up from early childhood as Americans, yet find themselves “illegal” when they turn 18 and can’t accept the college scholarship they have qualified for. When a parent drinks into addiction and creates a household of chaos and fear, the children are damaged in a profound way that usually persists into adulthood. Books and recovery groups for “Adult Children of Alcoholics” seek to help them heal the persistent injuries of their vulnerable childhood.

It is in the nature of things that the consequences of adult rebellion and pride often fall most fiercely upon their children. It is also the nature of things that children face many of the punishing consequences of our systemic injustices. A profound proportion of those who live in poverty are children.

It is the responsibility of the adults to protect the children. We must think of the consequences to them when we make choices, especially choices motivated by false pride. What we might be willing to risk for ourselves, are we willing to inflict on our children?

It is also important for us to give voice to the interests of children in our political debate. They cannot vote. They have no power. If the needs and interests of children are to be represented, it must be the adults that do so. Thank God for groups like the Children’s Defense Fund and my state’s Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

I wonder again about that story of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. What if, just before the earth opened, as they stood before their tents, a group of Hebrew women ran to them, gathered the wives and children and scurried them away from the danger? Would God have been angry? Would Moses have stopped them? I don’t know. But it seems to me it would have been worth the try. Every time Abraham or Moses challenged God by interceding about a justice issue, God modified the anticipated damage. (i.e. Abraham in Sodom and Moses in the next section of this reading)

It is our responsibility to try — to intercede for justice on behalf of the innocent and vulnerable who are in harm’s way because of the choices of the powerful. Every day there are children who are being swallowed alive.

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