We have a clear idea of the sweet child that Jesus took into his arms. What if our image is all wrong?
told by Deborah
They traveled through the region of Galilee clandestinely, because Jesus had told his disciples, “The Son of Man will be handed over to human authorities, and they will kill him, and having been killed, will rise again after three days.”
But although they didn’t understand what he meant, they were afraid to ask him for an explanation.
When they got to their home base in Capernaum, he asked them, “What were you debating on the way?”
Nobody would say anything, because they’d been arguing with one another over who was the greatest.
Jesus sat down, called the twelve together, and told them, “Whoever wishes to be first shall be last of all and servant of all.”
Then he took a little child from out of the crowd and held her in his arms, and said, "Whoever welcomes a little child like this one in My name, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not only me but the One who sent me.”
Jesus took a little child in his arms and said, “Whoever welcomes a little child such as this in My name, welcomes me, and not only me, but the One who sent me.”
This passage came to mind the last time I traveled. Fortunately it was on the shorter leg of my journey, during a flight which lasted a little over two hours — a very long two hours, as a “little child” shrieked and wailed throughout the whole trip. Welcoming her (the infant was dressed in pink) was not, I confess, ’way up there on my list of desires or intentions. Instead, I found myself agreeing (in theory, at least) with a fellow traveler’s professed belief that those emitting noises above a certain decibel level should be transferred to the baggage compartment.
When we think of the little child in Jesus’ arms, we see a delightful, freshly-bathed toddler, gently weaving her fingers through the Lord’s beard and smiling up at him; or perhaps a sweet-smelling, linen-swathed infant, cooing and gurgling with contentment. We do not imagine Jesus holding a tired and hungry two-year old long overdue for his nap, wet-faced, kicking and crying; or a squalling, frightened baby who will not be soothed.
(Admit it: you’d like to see how the Lord Christ would handle challenges like those. I know I would.)
Clearly this teaching had a powerful impact on Jesus’ hearers, as all three synoptic gospels report it (Mk 9:30-37; Mt 18:1–5; Lk 9:46–48). Matthew, however, tells us that is was an instruction: that disciples are to become like little children if they wish to be “great.”
But what if my imagined situation were true: what if the child Jesus choose from out of the crowd and took up in his arms was a toddler having a melt-down, or an infant getting a new tooth? What if the sort of little child we are called to welcome is nasty or naughty, or sick or tired, or feeling lost and confused?
Perhaps what the Lord is saying is that, in order to be truly great disciples, we are to embrace those who are foolish or frightened as well as the wise and the confident. We are not called to be an exclusive community, limited to the best and the brightest and best-behaved; Christians are to be available and accepting companions on the Way to everyone we meet.
Think about it: Jesus was always drawn with an almost-magnetic force to those who were ill and in need, as they were to him; and it didn’t matter who it was — whether Jew or Gentile, man or woman, old or young. Nothing came between him and the work of healing: it was as if he had a special ministry to bless and comfort.
Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
~ Mark 2:17
Perhaps Jesus chose the child from out of the crowd not because she was pretty and perfect, but because she was perfectly horrid and needed desperately to be loved. Maybe that’s the kind of little child we’re supposed to embrace.
And, just possibly, that little child might live inside of us.
To be among those chosen by Christ is to be selected as especially in need, not especially perfect.
That’s the tricky business about our faith: it calls us to love the miserable and troublesome as well as the pleasant and the charming. This includes the acceptance of those aspects of ourselves we don’t particularly like. It means we are honest about our weaknesses and frailties and faults; letting go of the “tough guy” /gal persona that insists we be calm and confident and in charge twenty-four hours a day; releasing ourselves from incessant demands for perfection, right thinking, and correct conduct; and that we banish forever any sense of superiority.
We have all fallen short of the glory of God: we are holy works in progress. And that’s OK. What is not OK is to pretend otherwise. To deny our foul-ups and failings gives them power over us — inciting us to “protect” them (our false sense of self/ego) with lies and deceptions, including lying to ourselves. The other terrible result is that we are deluded into believing we know better / are better than anyone else.
With true faith in the Gospel of Christ Jesus, we won’t need to compensate with distorted self-adulation; instead we will willingly, joyfully, accept God’s love for us. We will trust in the Lord who chose us — in our neediness and frailty — to be blessed and healed, and will go forth in His name, as cheerful, compassionate companions on the Way.
We don’t have to disguise our inadequacies, we don’t have to pretend that we are different from what we are: we are loved, infinitely, passionately, eternally, by the Giver of Life, who will never let us go. There is no need for fear, but every reason for rejoicing.
Each of us can be the greatest of disciples when we accept ourselves and others as little children of God; admitting our ignorance and insecurities, our fears and our failings; recognizing that we have been chosen to be healed and blessed — and to, in turn, heal and bless. Success is not being the one above all others, but the one who walks with others in love and compassion.
Source of Life and Love, whom our Lord Jesus called “Father,” keep us mindful that we are all Your beloved children. Open our hearts to our sisters and brothers in the midst of their least lovable moments — when they are most in need. Comfort and encourage the little child in all of us, that we may be cheerful bearers of the glorious Gospel of Christ. Amen.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Imagine that you are the child that Jesus takes into his arms. What will you tell him?