Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle B, September 23, 2018
Wisdom 2: 12, 17-20; Psalm 54: 3-8;
James 3:16 – 4:3; Mark 9: 30-37
By Rev. Liz Miller
Have you every fed a baby? You prepare a small dish of food for baby’s lunch. You load a baby-size spoon and pilot the spoon, looping it through the air towards the child’s mouth, like an airplane. You instinctively open your own mouth wide, bringing the flying spoonful in for a landing. Remember those days?
Feeding a child is a great image for appreciating Jesus’ point in today’s Gospel. As parents we hand on our faith to our children, and in doing so, we often find our own spiritual hunger is being fed as well. This experience can bring us back to church or prompt us to reconsider what we know and believe and help us to grow from the faith of our own childhood into a deeper understanding of what the love of God means to us.
In today's Gospel, we see different hopes and expectations of the long awaited “age of the Messiah” collide in an almost comedic discourse. On the one Hand, Jesus speaks of his death and resurrection, while on the other those closest to him argue about their own greatness and status in the Messiah's reign. On the one hand, the disciples dream out loud of a kingdom filled with power and influence, while on the other Jesus outlines for the Twelve the great paradox of discipleship: Do you wish to be first? Then become last. Do you seek to attain greatness? Then become small. Do you want to be masters? Then become the servants of those you wish to rule.
To emphasize the point, Jesus picks up a little child and places the child in their midst. Jesus takes the child in his arms, which is part of the adoption ritual in his world and identifies himself with the child. This would be discomforting to the disciples because a child in Jesus time had no influence in the affairs of society, were completely marginal, and had little or no status. The disciples didn't understand that the poorest and neediest, the forgotten and the rejected, the least and the lowliest, represented by the child in today’s Gospel, are signs of God’s grace in our midst. Why? Because the innocence of child-like faith is never dissuaded or discouraged, never becomes cynical or jaded, never ceases to be amazed and grateful for the many ways God reveals his presence in our lives. The power of such simple faith is its ability to overcome every rationalization, fear, complication and agenda in order to mirror the selfless love and compassion expressed in Christ Jesus.
In their simple joy and wonder of the world they are constantly discovering, in their ready acceptance of our love, in their total dependence on us for their nurturing and growth, children are the ideal teachers of the Spirit of humble servanthood and constant thanksgiving that Jesus asks of those who would be his followers.
The child represents for us as disciples of Jesus the vulnerabilities, the fears, the doubts we all experience in our lives. The child reminds us of Jesus' call to us as his disciples to take up his work of reaching out to others paralyzed by such anxiety and despair. In the service we give and respect we afford to others as sons and daughters of God, Jesus says, we welcome into our midst the very presence of God. Our empathy and care for the child and child-like mirrors the love of God for us despite our own failings and fears. Only in putting ourselves in the humble service of the lowly child can we hope to claim a place in the kingdom of God.
Christ calls us to embrace the simple but profound faith that we seek to teach our children: to love God and one another with honesty and faithfulness, without condition or expectation, putting aside every rationalization and agenda that our adult minds fathom. Only in opening our own hearts to Jesus’ Gospel of uncomplicated and straightforward kindness, compassion, generosity and forgiveness, can we help our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and ourselves to become authentic followers of Jesus; the Jesus of selflessness and compassion.
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Open wide, for all that our God offers us, and accept in trust the faith of a child!