By M. Christine Macmillan
“Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. “Who are these with you?” he asked. Jacob answered, “They are the children God has graciously given your servant” (Genesis 33:5, NIV).
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child has a plain language version. Plain language is a way of un-complicating the smoke screens of denial.
The Genesis 33:5 encounter sees two brothers, Jacob and Esau, walking toward each other after many years of resentment and estrangement. The poorer brother looks up and sees Jacob’s tribe of kids – well fed, clothed and cared for – as Jacob was a man of prosperity. The image is not enough for Esau, so he asks: “Who are these with you?” Perhaps Uncle Esau wants an introduction. Jacob is complimentary of the “these” in his life. He describes them as the children God has graciously given him. These are kids on the bus of security, rights, visibility and potential employment.
In 1963 a woman from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) came to speak to The Salvation Army Training College in London, England. She told the young officers in training for ministry that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was actually formed before the NSPCC. The NSPCC came into being because a little girl with very matted hair, who was badly abused, was brought before the courts and presented as an animal. When the judge realized that he was actually viewing a child, he set the wheels in motion that eventually led to the formation of the NSPCC.
Childhood disturbs us when we dare to look up statistics of hunger, premature death, and plain abuse. I have visited children whose address is a common sewer. Their day labour is tedious, dangerous and matted in the entanglement of horror.
Esau and Jacob had their own issues of childhood to deal with. Our own lives are full of issues but, along with Jesus and Esau, we must “look up,” take action, and let the children come to us, matted hair and all. For where the children are hopeful and their hands reach out, who will hold them?