Receiving the Little Ones: A RC Woman Priest’s Reflections for the 25th Sunday in OT-9/20/15
“Taking a child, he placed it in their midst and putting his arms around it said to them: ‘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”. (Mark 9:36-37).
How do we draw closer to God? How do we become more like Christ?
The first reading from Wisdom(2:12,17-20) shows that the just one, the one who lives the law of love and justice makes other people very uneasy. The response is to torture that one to see if one who lives for love and justice will break under rejection, torture and threat of a shameful death. The deuterocanonical book of Wisdom was written between 50 and 80 years before Christ was born. It spoke to the difference of Jews adhering to God’s law and pagans or non-believers who felt reproached by them. Matthew, Mark and other Gospel writers also applied this to Jesus who indeed met the fate of the righteous and just one described here. In this passage we are charged to grow close to God by living the law of love and justice as Jews who understood and followed the Law did and as Jesus did. If this sometimes brings us big trouble we are to expect it-we are not embracing popular culture but God’s culture of love and justice. We are to become comfortable in out difference and not conform to those who live for hedonism and pleasure, bring death upon others, oppress the poor and widow, disrespect elders, and live by the slogan “might makes right”. (Wisdom 2:1-11).
In the Epistle of James (the brother of Jesus and the bishop of the church in Jerusalem) we read that to follow Christ ambition and selfish desires must be put aside. We need to live for God’s passion, not our own passions that serve the self first. Disorder,discord and all that is evil result when ambition trumps service even in the church. Pope Francis has gone far to challenge the church to return to humility and service of the poor and outcast. This week, regarding the flood of Syrian refugees into Europe, Pope Francis challenged religious institutions to take in these strangers fleeing for their lives and religious freedom. He went so far as to say that if the religious institutions would rather make money using their premises as hotels and had no room for the refugees, they should pay state taxes. They do not deserve church exemptions because they are not doing what church does. ( In the book of Acts it is noted that there were no poor or needy because those with money sold off their property and shared with the poor.) He is showing the church and the world how to get closer to God-live God’s law of love and justice. Receive the little ones, including the strangers in your midst. I have no doubt that Francis has angered many powerful in the Church and in the world. This week as he visits both Cuba and the USA he will no doubt upset more of the rich and the powerful. He may fall in popularity and favor with the powerful, but he will show us how to live love and justice, to live the Gospel.
In the Gospel (Mark 9:30-37) Jesus is revealing the truth of Wisdom 2-he lives and teaches love and justice completely and he will meet the fate of those righteous/just ones who live love. Moreover, they will kill him, but the grave won’t hold him-he will rise in three days. The disciples do not yet get that Jesus’ Way will lead to rejection and punishment by those who are in power for their very power base is challenged. Might does not make right but right living draws us close to God. The discussion in Mark 9 where the disciples vie for power and rewards is to say they still do not get it. So Jesus tries again to help them understand the role of those chosen to bear the Gospel is not to become Number One but to take the last seat in the assembly and to serve all. It can’t be much clearer than that.
But, Jesus gives them still another example of what is needed. The example of Jesus receiving/welcoming the children is an object lesson. If you want to draw close to God and to Jesus the Christ then welcome those who have the least power in this world. This includes children and a host of people living in bare subsistence and poverty as well as those who are overlooked and marginalized for a variety of reasons dealing with ethno and egocentrism, prejudice and discrimination. When we receive these little ones we welcome Christ and we welcome God. We draw close to God. In essence, we take the little ones off the cross and are willing to carry it ourselves.
Let us consider hungry children and individuals to take only one example from today’s world (2012-2014 statistics from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization) )- 805 million people out of the world population of 7.3 billion or one out of nine are suffering from chronic undernourishment. Three.one million children die of malnutrition annually. Poverty is the greatest cause of hunger. In most nations those at the top live and eat well and those, (the great majority) at the bottom struggle with hunger and its ramifications in poor health and death. Over 1 billion people in developing countries live,or barely live, on less than 1.25 a day. (www.worldhunger.org/articles) In the USA,48.1 million or one in seven struggle with hunger. Fourteen per cent of American households experience food insecurity. Seventeen.two million and 20 % of America’s children don’t know where their next meal is coming from. (Feeding America, Elaine Waxman, Report from Urban Institute-www.feedingamerica.org). While many churches and non-profits do work hard at feeding the poor directly and others of all religions tithe to give to the poor, many simply grow bigger, grander and fatter while children go hungry. Pope Francis has clearly become today’s moral compass for those who think they are close to God in their prosperity while their neighbors go hungry. In a recent prayer from the Vatican he said:
“God of love, show us our place in this world as channels of your love for all the creatures of this earth, for not one of them is forgotten in your sight. Enlighten those who possess power and money that they may avoid the sin of indifference, that they may love the common good, advance the weak, and care for this world in which we live. the poor and the earth are crying out. O Lord, seize us with your power and light, help us to protect all life….”
Pope Francis is simply saying what Jesus said in today’s context. “Receive, welcome these little ones”. Receive them in Baptism, receive them at the Table. Take them in your arms. Feed them. Notice in Mark 9:36, Jesus takes the child in his arms and then teaches us about receiving the little ones that brings us close to him and to the One who sent him. We are not only to give our Peter’s pence we are to embrace and to love in very real ways. This is the picture of God’s love for all little ones, all who have no power or money in this world-they are in God’s arms, and we are to open our own arms in a similar way to draw close to them and also to God. This will be our joy and reward, closeness with God’s people and closeness with God. How beautiful is that! Amen.