At least, you could if you lived in China. Back in July 2013, China’s legislature passed a law that allowed the government to fine or even detain kids for neglecting their parents. Apparently, neglect of the elderly has become a significant problem for the Chinese. A people who pride themselves on their care for the aged have had increasing numbers of incidents where children are letting their parents squander away. There have been a number of cases in China where elderly parents sue their own children for emotional support. Most of the time, they simply don’t want to feel neglected. One instance of elderly neglect in particular drew attention from Chinese news when Chen Shoutian put his 100-year old mother in a pig sty to sleep. What was more heinous is that Chen has six bedrooms in his home. He claimed on the news that it was his mother’s choice, but soon afterward had put his mother into a kitchen in his home. Obviously, this is an extreme case but highlights the situation that even in countries where the elderly once held an esteemed place, there are troubles with how we treat them. And that could be a serious problem, especially with estimates of the world’s elderly growing at alarming rates. China’s elderly population is said to grow by over 300 million people in the next 40 years – an estimated 35% of the country. What will we do then? Will we treat our elderly better or worse?
We also have a problem with how we treat our children.
We’ve gotten better over the years, but even in Jesus’ time, children were treated no better than slave labor. Sometimes even worse. It took centuries before we enacted laws that protected children from harm and abuse. And that was in the United States. Sadly, those laws are not universal and in many countries, children are often used and abused. In some places they are forced to work longer and harder than most adults for a fraction of their wages. But that’s not the end of the story. Routinely, children are abused in ways more than just forced labor. They are abused physically, emotionally, and sexually. They are also neglected both physically and emotionally. It was estimated that about 5 children a day die due to neglect and abuse. Five children a day. That comes out to more than 1600 children a year. More than 70% of those deaths were among children 2 years old and younger and most of those were caused not by a stranger, but by at least one of their parents. And that’s only part of the story. Of those that survive, they die on average 20 years earlier than those who did not suffer from abuse and neglect. There are other effects from this type of trauma as well, but the end result is pretty clear – we don’t do a good enough job of helping the young or the elderly.
And that is not how Jesus would want us to be.
There are many passages in the Bible that tell us how we should treat both young and old alike. We are supposed to revere our elders, we are supposed to protect the young. It’s as clear as black and white. Revere our elders, protect the young. So why aren’t we doing that? For too long have we weighed a person’s value on how productive they are to society. And we’ve qualified what productivity is. Productivity is artificially set by a bell curve. The bell curve tells us that our highest productivity is within a certain range of years. Most likely between 18-34 but for some can be as high as our 50’s. After that, we start losing value. People older than 50 are making more money than people doing the same job at 30 years old. So we hire younger people who will work harder for less money. We value youth for other reasons, too. They are self-sufficient. The older we get the more we rely on others to help us. And in our society today, that is seen as a sign of weakness. Maybe it’s also a reminder of our own mortality. We forget the elderly have experience on their side. They have wisdom and knowledge that can hold the truth to answers we may not have figured out for ourselves. They are able to understand relationships that we are barely scratching the surface with. Our elderly have MUCH to contribute if we only would stop to utilize them the way they should be utilized. Children are considered weak because they too are less self-sufficient. Especially in their formative years. They need the financial and physical support of their parents. If it weren’t for labor laws, there would be many people who would force their children into physical labor or worse. It boggles my mind to wonder how for so long we could ignore the words of Jesus Christ.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! – Matthew 18:1-7
When God made us caretakers of the Earth, it was more than just for the birds and the bees.
We were supposed to take care of each other, too. In this passage, Jesus warns us that if we cause our children to stumble, whether they are our biological children or not, if we cause them to waver in their faith, to lose their childlike innocence, to become jaded and cold like the rest of us, then it would be better for us to drown in the sea. Jesus said, “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” Are we those people?
Jesus valued children.
It’s as plain and simple as that. They are God’s creation and they bear the mark of innocence until we ruin it for them. I’ve told you before the story of Emma and the beggar woman. As Emma handed her all the change she had, thinking she was doing the kind and good thing, the beggar woman shattered her good nature and robbed her of that kindness and innocence by asking her in an accusatory tone, “Is that all you have?” Do you think Emma will give as freely the next time wondering whether or not she’ll be judged for the amount she has given rather than from the heart with which she gave it? Do you think children are born racist? Or do you think that those attitudes and ideas might possibly come from their parents and their environment? We have to protect one another, old and young. We have to recognize the value in every human being. We have to find a way to remember that we are all God’s children and therefore all are considered of sacred worth in his eyes. Everyone has something to contribute to society at every age. Whether you are 5 or 95, YOU are important. YOU are of sacred worth.
It’s important you believe that, too.
There have been studies done that show that our belief in our own self-worth, our attitudes about our value to society matter. They matter not only to the world, but to our own quality of life. It’s been found in studies that people who have more positive views of aging, live on average 7.5 years longer than those who don’t. Those with positive aging attitudes are 44% more likely to fully recover from disabilities than those who don’t. And those who have more negative aging attitudes had a 30% greater decline in memory than those who thought more positively. These attitudes toward aging are ingrained in us early on, far before we hit our senior years, and they stay with us most of our lives. We must do more. We must do more for both young and old. We must break through these convenient stereotypes of “old” and “young.” Not just for ourselves but for the world around us that is aging at a rapid pace. We must do more intergenerational work. We must learn to value one another. We must learn to look beyond categories and instead find the worth in each human being, no matter their age. And we must start today.
Ageism affects everyone whether we realize it or not.
It enforces bad stereotypes. It devalues human beings. And it tells us we have no worth when in fact we do. So how do we combat it? By refusing to give in. By finding value in each person. By finding their strengths instead of their weaknesses. By recognizing that all people have something to contribute. We are mistaken to underestimate people based on age. Emma has a better understanding of God and humanity than many adults that I know. I find that true of many children. Most elderly people have experiences that worth a fortune that can only come with time. Revere those who are older. Treasure those who are younger. And take it upon yourself to protect those of every age. Because that is our sacred duty and YOU are of sacred worth. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Ibid – relating to children who “have 6 or more adverse childhood experiences”