Scriptures: James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a Mark 9:30-37
LET US PRAY: Welcoming God: open our ears that we may clearly hear Your Word; open our hearts and minds that we may faithfully live out Your message. Amen.
Q: How is a person like a safety pin?
A: It has to be open before it can be used.
And, if nothing else, Mark’s Gospel pushes us to be examine our own lives … to do a diagnostic check on our own willingness to be open to the unexpected … open to the challenge of being a faithful disciple of Jesus.
In the past few weeks, while reading through Mark’s Gospel, we have been drawn into the midst of Jesus’ closest friends. We have:
- Worked with the disciples as Jesus fed the multitudes
- Watched Jesus acquiesce to the demands of the Syrophonecian woman, who begged for healing for her daughter
- Stood by as Jesus, tired and depleted as He was, healed a deaf man with a speech impediment
- Felt torn be our desire to confess Jesus as the MessiahANDour discomfort over accepting His predictions of suffering, death, and resurrection.
Throughout these stories, Jesus and the disciples have been on the road, moving from 1 town to another. They are tired. They need some serious down time! And Jesus also needed some time to be alone with His disciples so that He could continue to teach them about the serious commitment they have made … because, in short, life as a disciple of Jesus is NOT all fun and glory!
Ironically, they have now arrived at “the house” ~ which the unidentified owner has opened to them … a quiet place where they can rest and refresh themselves. And, into the midst of their conversation, Jesus places a child. WHY A CHILD? On other occasions when Jesus wanted to teach something, He told a parable, or held up a coin, or pointed to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. But this time, He took a child and held him in His arms.
One possibility is that a child ~ an innocent child ~ formed a most fitting contrast to the less-than-innocent attitude of the disciples. Jesus had just announced His passion, that before there is to be any victory … before there can be resurrection, there must be death. “The Son of Man is to be betrayed … killed.” (Mk 9:31) In essence, Jesus has just proclaimed that His own life involves suffering and the supreme act of sacrifice. And the astounding response of the disciples is to spend the rest of the day sauntering down the road toCapernaum~ discussing which one of them will turn out to be “most valuable player!”
Jesus embodies sacrifice; THEY jockey for position.
Jesus announces His own suffering; THEY argue over reserved parking spaces and who gets to ride first class.
Jesus has called them to “deny themselves and take up their crosses”, but THEY have instead affirmed themselves and taken up not a cross but the old sandbox debate, “I’m better than you are!”
The disciples are so grotesquely out of line, so in violation of all that Jesus is calling them to do ~ that they need a shocking object lesson. Evidently experiencing the generous hospitality and kindness of the homeowner is completely lost on these clueless followers!
And so we hear that Jesus brings in an unidentified child and places the child in their midst … as if to say: “Here is a child, free of all your adult posturing … and manipulation … and finagling, SO: pay attention and learn something for once!”
Jesus then wraps His arms around that child. And, in that simple movement and gesture, Jesus is teaching the fine aft of extending KINDNESS to the vulnerable and innocent. After all, Jesus has told the disciples that the true path to greatness is servanthood (Mk. 9:35), and what better way to exhibit servanthood than to care for children … for those who can in no way care for themselves OR repay their efforts? Jesus’ actions move us somewhat closer to the heart of this passage.
This idea of openness to others and servanthood is one of the foremost and strongest pillars of the Church. In the 3rd Century document of the church life and order called the Didascalia, there arises a question about what should happen if a needy stranger should arrive at the church unexpectedly and there is no room for him at the table. The answer is surprising:
“If a destitute man or woman, either a local person or a traveler, arrives unexpectedly ~ especially one of older years ~ and there is no place … you, Bishop, make such a place with all your heart, even if you yourself should sit on the ground, that you may not show favoritism among human beings, but that your ministry may be pleasing before God.”
In other words: the Bishop, the leader, the greatest in the community must sit on the ground if necessary ~ because greatness in God’s kingdom is NOT defined by status or power … but by service. So maybe that is why Jesus placed a child in the midst of his disciples, in order to teach them to serve those who are not strong enough to repay them.
But even this insight does not fully get to the depth of Jesus’ actions. Children in Jesus’ day were not just needy, they were also of low social status. So, when Jesus took a child and placed him in the midst of the disciples ~~ and even held that child in His arms … it wasn’t because that child was all cuddly and lovable ~ looking like the Gerber baby, hungry for a little attention. Rather, it was because that child, and all the children, was unlovable, powerless and replaceable. In fact, they were important to no one ~ to no one, except Jesus. Jesus not only placed the child in the middle of His company of disciples … into the midst of His own chosen community … Jesus tenderly hugged that child to Himself.
The 14th Century Friar, Meister Eckhart, said: “You may call God love, you may call God goodness; but the best name for God is compassion.” And, whether we call it compassion or kindness, openness to others or servanthood … this is what Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is all about. And that holds true for all of His disciples, too.
What Jesus was teaching was not just kindness, but kindness directed toward those who never experience the kindness of the world; not just tenderness, but tenderness toward those who never feel a loving touch; not just hospitality, but a wide welcome toward those for whom all other doors are slammed shut.
What Jesus did for others …well, it all happened up close and personal. And, Jesus calls us to do the same. And, let’s face it: our world certainly needs us to share that “up close and personal” attention that Jesus offered to others. It seems the news is filled with nothing but stories about:
- Increasing numbers of victims of violent, senseless crimes
- Escalating prices and the numbers of out-of-work families
- An unwillingness to even try and understand those who are different from us ~ often leading to hatred and segregation
- Looming threats to disband necessary programs that provide educational opportunities, health care, and security for our aging population
When we add up the wrongs that need to be to be righted … and the folks who are in need of our personal attention … and the many people who cry out for a kind word or sympathetic ear … the scope of work facing us disciples is staggering and overwhelming. I sometimes think it would be so much easier for us to imitate Jesus today … IF He were around to be our guide … the first one to step out of the box and lead the way so that we, too, can do something radical. And then I remember: DUH! Even His first disciples then didn’t always get it right!
But that brings me back to our reading for today … where there is one more truth to be discerned … one more profound surprise in Jesus’ action. When the followers of Jesus stop wrangling among themselves about status long enough to follow their servant master … when the followers of Jesus pick up their own crosses and show hospitality and kindness to the unlovely and powerless and outcast of the world ~ THAT’S exactly when they discover that they have not only received a stranger but that they have also received Jesus Christ himself. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and … also welcomes the one who sent me.” (9:37). What a wonderful affirmation that we are NOT alone … that God in Christ is always present ~ in and with and among us.
There is a small piece of paper that sits on my desk at home … right next to my computer so I can see it every day and get my daily dose of OOOMPH. On that piece of paper is printed a prayer that was written in 1515 by St. Teresa ofAvila:
Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks with compassion into the world.
Yours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good.
Yours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if, every day, we could greet every person we meet as our sisters and brothers in Indiagreet each other: Namaste! The God in me greets the God in you!