The disciples—we might think of them as trying to be Jesus’ “handlers”—they turned the children away. But Jesus felt strongly about this. He was indignant. He rebuked the disciples. Let the children come to me; do not hinder them. Jesus always wanted the children to come. There are stories of sick children that he visited. There was one, at least, that he raised back to life.
This is not—we must understand this—not sentimentality. He himself is going to die, die for those children, those adults, the men, the women, the slaves, the free people. He knows the hard things. And it is precisely not sentimentality in the midst of the hard things to see children, really to see them, to see that they are people, just like all people. Children aren’t future people, they aren’t people whose value or importance is in their future. They are people who, like all people, have their value and importance in the now. . . .
N.’s story is an unusual story: the hardness of cancer, the pain of treatments, the care that he required over many years. These are real things. But I have heard from you something that actually does not surprise me: a sense that a light was shining even in the midst of these difficult things. The light was sometimes in you, as you loved and cared for him, in others who were involved in his life, but also the light could sometimes be seen in N. himself. As you who have loved him share your memories, you will see, you will remember, that it was hard (we should never deny it was hard) but: it was not only hard.
So here is my unsentimental thing to say today. We all weep at death, and we should. We all wish N. had never had cancer, or that, having it, we wish it could have been cured. And so, of course, we wish his life had been longer, that he had died, say, at 70 rather than at 7. But when Jesus looks at N., he does not see tragedy. He does not see a short life that should have been longer. He sees N. himself, a person, a complete person just as he is.