Bottom line: We are little people. Jesus tells us what it means to take up the cross and follow him - to be little people and to embrace other little people in his name.
Last Sunday we saw Jesus "set his face like flint" toward Jerusalem. In that city he would fulfill his destiny, his mission. His mission is this: "to suffer greatly...be rejected...and killed..." Peter tried to dissuade him, but Jesus rebuked him harshly, "Get behind me, you Satan." Then he told his disciples to take up the cross and follow him.
Today Jesus repeats his announcement of the Passion, once again with the hint of resurrection. How do the disciples respond to this? With singular obtuseness. I was going to say, male obtuseness - but that might not be fair. At any rate, they failed to take Jesus' words seriously. They simply did not get it.
Instead of asking Jesus what he meant, they started arguing about who was the greatest. They began telling each other about their personal accomplishments. Maybe the conversation went something like this:
--I am not bragging (the credit goes to God) but I did heal five people last week.
--Well, I brought in forty denarii in donations. Get realistic, guys, can't do anything without money.
--I was talking to some folks in Jerusalem, real movers and shakers. We are going to need them on our side.
--Oh, I've been working so hard lately I can barely move, but let me tell you about it.
--What a crowd turned out for the talk I gave! Made some converts to our cause.
--If someone listened to my suggestion, we wouldn't be in this mess.
In the context of that discussion, Jesus brings forward a child. It is like holding a freshly hatched chick up to strutting roosters. Why is the master interested in someone so paltry when he has myself, moi, right in front of him? The apostles want others to think they are "somebody." Jesus presents them with one who in that culture is a "nobody."
In Jesus' day a child's opinion counted for nothing. He was supposed to keep quiet. He had no "rights." He was not "his own person" - he belonged to his father. In Jesus' time, they had no romantic notions about a child being "innocent." Rather they believed a child needed regular correction and discipline.
When Jesus says, "Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me," he is identifying himself with the bottom rung of society. And telling his disciples to do the same.
A lovely hymn says, "'Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free, 'tis a gift to come down where we out to be." Jesus is asking us to come down - to recognize that we are little people and to embrace other little people. I think about people who dedicate themselves to the troubled child - or the troubled adult. Not glamorous, often not even a grateful task - but by doing so, they receive Jesus. The greatness of the Church - and of each individual Christian comes from corporal and spiritual works of mercy.*
You and I are not rich and famous; we are not the great and the powerful. We are little people. Jesus tells us what it means to take up the cross and follow him - to be little people and to embrace other little people in his name. Amen.
*For a practical approach that helps ordinary Christians (like you and me) gain new insight and new motivation, I recommend The Work of Mercy by Mark Shea.
From Archives (Homilies for 25th Sunday, Year B):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
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