I used to joke about a “blood relative” rule when it came to taking an interest in the lives of children who weren’t mine, and although it was largely driven by fear of incompetence with respect to kid’s ministry, I now think the joke was unchristian and indeed unmanly. The last verses of the Old Testament look forward to a time when ‘Elijah’ would turn ‘the hearts of the fathers to their children’ Malachi 4:6. The God fearing father in Israel was concerned for more than himself and his time. He knew the importance of passing on the ‘decrees’ of God and the story of Israel, so that the nation might ‘always prosper and be kept alive’ Deuteronomy 6:24. Personally he looked forward to the blessing of seeing his children’s children Psalm 128. Israel, of course, were not particularly good at following decrees, including decrees to pass on decrees, and so we find the time of Malachi assuming an age in which fathers were indifferent or hostile towards their children, waiting for a future age when this would no longer be the case.
Jesus, then, brought in an age where we would once again be concerned for those who came after us, for our biological children, yes, but also for children generally – witness Jesus’ response to those who would seek to stop children getting to Jesus e.g. Luke 18. Sadly, it seems that this age has not arrived for some men. We remain, I think, frightened that children will get in the way of all the Things we would like to Do, and it has become passé for us to speak ill of them; I, for one, was never challenged about my “blood relative” rule.
Now if Malachi was referring only to the work of John the Baptist in those few short years before Jesus took over, then perhaps we don’t have anything to worry about. If, however he was also pointing to the pattern of life that would become evident as people started following Jesus – then it is a different matter see the rest of Malachi 4:6 to get what I’m talking about. If that is the case then reversing men’s attitude to children becomes one of those Things we ought to Get Done.