Reflection for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time
My Dear Good People,
Children are wonderful. Sometimes I think they’ve been recycled: they are so smart at such a young age that they must have been here before. This week I was at supper with my brother and his little grandson Benjamin. Like most little boys he is crazy about dinosaurs. When I was his age I could barely tell you my address. Ben knows every kind of dinosaur that ever lived and when and where they lived, and what’s more, he knows the difference between a Tyrannosaurus Rex (thank God for autocorrect on that one) and a dragon. I, on the other hand, am always mistaking dragons for dinosaurs–I can never tell them apart. During supper I asked him how they can tell how long (tall?) a dinosaur was, since they didn’t have cell phone cameras in those days. He told me they can tell from fossils, so I asked him, just to continue the conversation, what a fossil is. He leaned toward his grandfather across the table and whispered, “She doesn’t have any idea what a fossil is!” He proceeded to tell me, and of course, I learned a lot I never knew. At that point we moved on to the different kinds of mac & cheese (Annie’s is the best), and how good it tastes when you add peas to it. I just love little children. They know things I’ll never know, they trust us, and they have no agenda.
Jesus loved children, too, and still does. In today’s Gospel (Mark 9:30-37) He calls a child to Himself and, turning to His disciples, He set him in the midst of them. When He had embraced him, He said to them, Whoever receives a child such as this in My name, receives Me. And whosoever receives Me, receives not Me, but Him who sent Me.
What was Jesus saying? This scene took place in immediate response to an argument the apostles had been having about who among them was the greatest. Jesus began His response by warning the apostles that wanting to be first would end badly. He had so many times told them to seek the lowest place at table, to give away their coat if someone stole their shirt, and to think of others before thinking of themselves. Jesus set on its ear the common way of measuring success, and urged humility of heart in all His followers.
That was, and is, countercultural. But so is Jesus. He did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, and thus He humbled Himself, being born in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:6,7).
Little children understand this. They don’t need long explanations to clarify things after they have been given the facts (at least not until they start to ‘grow up,’ which isn’t really such a bad thing…). And they will take Jesus at His word every time. They don’t measure themselves against anyone else’s success. And they will gladly give you a bite of their mac & cheese with peas, no questions asked. They are content to be who they are, and they are just the right size for Jesus to embrace.
Today, on this Sunday in September when the whole world seems to be living in a vortex of contradictory stories and people stepping on others in order to get to the top, we are invited to be like a little child. Don’t look for explanations for what you’ve always known to be true. Be honest. Don’t laugh out loud at someone who doesn’t know what a fossil is (though you can whisper to your grandfather about her). And don’t even think about whether you are better than the next person.
Our children don’t doubt our love. They just know we love them, and they’re happy about it. Be like a child, Jesus says, so He can draw you to Himself and embrace you. He thinks you are the best. So save the first place for your neighbor. Jesus will come and find you at the end of the table.
And He gives the best hugs.
God bless you.