Date: Sunday, September 23, 2018
25th Sunday Ordinary Time B
In our Gospel today Jesus, the teacher, uses a child as an illustration in a lesson for his disciples. The Gospels preserve a tradition in which Jesus presents a child as an example of our entry into Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew) and of following Jesus (Mark). We must understand that in the ancient world a child may be loved and at the same time not valued. A child has no rights apart from the father of the family. The lowly social status of children is akin to women and servants/slaves in that society.
In our Gospel today on the way to Capernaum Jesus explains that being the Messiah will entail suffering and death and then new life. The disciples, totally missing the essential point of the lesson, quibble among themselves about who is the greatest. When they reach their destination, Jesus gently chides his disciples to put away aspirations of grandeur and become servants. “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” And to visualize the importance of his words, like a good teacher, Jesus puts his arms around a child and says: “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me, and whoever receives not me but the One who sent me.”
“Receive” in context means “to welcome” or “to wait upon”. Like a servant or waiter at table, the disciple must bend down and ask the child: “What would like to eat?” Many disciples first come to Jesus because they seek something from him – hope, salvation, healing, forgiveness, a sense of belonging, esteem. All these are gifts that a true follower of Jesus will gratefully receive and then share freely with others. When we bestow gifts on the lowly whomever they be (children, women and slaves) we are giving them back to Jesus himself and to the One who sent Jesus into the world, God, the Father. The recipient of gifts becomes the benefactor, the gift giver!