25th Sunday Ordinary Time
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me, but the One who sent me.”
Who is more helpless than a child? Who is more completely dependent upon the love and mercy of others than a child? Who is without power, without authority, without a means of independent living; other than a child?
Even in our western culture where children tend to come first; children are completely dependent upon others - to clothe them, - feed them, - provide shelter for them - and tend to all their needs.
Jesus lived in a culture quite different from ours. It was a social structure that afforded children no status at all. The cry, “Women and children into the lifeboats first” on a sinking ship would have been a completely foreign concept to the people in Jesus’ time. In times of famine, children were fed last - after the adult men and then the women. If a house was on fire the head of the household was to rescue his father first, then his mother, then his wife and, if there was time, his children.
So, for Jesus to bring a child to the center of the assembly of his disciples was a very radical thing to do. It actually was an insulting gesture toward his disciples to ask them to receive this child.
In their culture, hospitality was given with an expectation of reciprocating hospitality or for the guest to tell others of the gracious generosity of the host; thereby bringing honor to the host. What reciprocal honor could a child give? Would anyone listen to a child tell of the generosity of a host – a child without status or standing in society? Honor was a very important aspect of the culture, even among the poor.
So, why does Jesus bring this child into their presence?
Remember, the disciples have all been arguing among themselves on the road about who was the greatest among them. Which of them was the most important? Who was next in line to Jesus among their little band?
The disciples were not powerful or influential men. They were ordinary - everyday people - with no more importance than the next person. Not one of them had an expectation of being next in line to Jesus: for none of them were exceptional – they were like children - without Jesus.
Jesus was their center. He was the reason they had preaching authority when he sent them out two by two. Jesus was the leader of their band and the sole reason for doing what they did. Without Jesus they did not “have authority over unclean spirits” and they could not “cast out demons, anoint the sick and work many cures” as they did when Jesus sent them out.
Jesus brings the child into their midst to humble them and show them how they must be like Him; like the child – completely dependent on God, the Father and trusting – with the trust of a child – in God’s love. Jesus challenges his disciples to welcome the powerless; - the weak, - the vulnerable among them, - for these least will be first in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus himself is like a child – trusting completely in his Father in heaven for all his needs. He asks the disciples to also trust in the Father. Jesus places himself among the weak and vulnerable; inviting his disciples to also place themselves among these least and in doing so, accepting the Fathers love and trusting in Him for all their needs.
For Paul reminds us,
“God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” 1 Cor. 1:27
In Wisdom’s reading we hear the foretelling of Our Lord’s journey into Jerusalem; his suffering and crucifixion. We hear of the plots of those who despise the righteous. They plan to “beset the just one who is “obnoxious” to them because he reproaches them for their “transgressions of the law and violations of their training.” They want to test his gentleness and patience with torture and “a shameful death” to see if he actually believes his words of Trust in God - and if God will take care of him.
Just as Jesus challenged his disciples to accept the weak and vulnerable among them; recognizing that they too are among the least of God’s children: to trust as he trusts - in God for everything they need. He continues today to challenge each of us accept our weaknesses and vulnerability and to also trust in God’s love for all our needs.
For as with the first disciples, we too are without power or authority - without Jesus. Jesus too is our center. And to be like him - we too - need to trust as he trusts in God, the Father. For we are His children, powerless and weak, except in the arms of God - where we are strong in His love.
Deacon Don Ron