A Little Child

Mark 9:30-37

ME!  . . .

ME! . . .  

ME FIRST! . . .

How often have we heard children scream this when they wanted to be ‘special’? And let’s admit it, we adults also have the same reaction – albeit a little more subtle and pleading under our breath,  

(‘please let it be me’!).

Jesus heard the same thing while he and the disciples were walking through Gallilee. Each of the disciples was jockeying to be the ‘greatest’, the ‘favorite’ of Jesus. It is human nature to want to be at the top of the heap, whatever that heap is.

But Jesus admonished his disciples:

“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

He then brought a little child into their midst and told them:

Here were all these grown men who had been following Jesus for a long time, and Jesus has the audacity to include a little child into their inner circle! Imagine how rejected they might have felt.

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:37)

A little child!

What does a little child have to do with which one of them is the greatest, the favorite?

Children held an interesting place in the first century household for both Jews and Romans.  They represented the future—they would carry on the family name, provide for their aging parents, and produce the next generation. But as little children, they were a liability; small children were more likely to contract an illness and die. They couldn’t really help with daily life, and just represented another mouth to feed.

But, the child in this passage represents all of God’s people (no matter the age). The greatest people in God’s kingdom are not the rich and powerful, but the poor and helpless; not the ones with the most servants, but those who serve others the most. Jesus argued that if we help those who are humble, lowly, poor, or oppressed we will be ‘the greatest’ from his point of view.

Kids — munchkins — rug rats — ragamuffins — you have to love them, no matter what you may call them. And Jesus obviously did.

They are the ones Jesus commands us to welcome. With children, it is not a question of who is great and who is not, but instead a question of welcome. Jesus isn’t interested in who we say is the greatest or even who acts like the greatest or seems to be the greatest. Jesus is interested in who acts with the greatest grace, compassion, and love.

Every single human is born and blessed by God with an innocent spirit; but our life experiences expose us to attitudes, joys, sorrows, fears, and goals. The older we get, we become jaded by the world we live in. As we age, we unlearn what it means to be the original kind of human being God created us to be. The older we get, the more we believe somehow that we know best.

But Jesus reminds us of something very important. When it comes to knowing what it means to be authentically human, loving, and faithful, our best role models are our children.

Children don’t edit themselves; they just tell it as it is. A child can teach us to play, to return to our innocence. The child is not looking for power, or greatness, or status, or wealth. The child’s heart has a purity that is still innocent and loving and does not discriminate.

To receive as a child is to have a vision of the way the world is meant to be. In Jesus’ mind this is what it means to be a “great” disciple: loving, pure, authentic, honest, unspoiled by the negatives of life. To be a disciple of Jesus, we must re-learn this innocence, remember how to think and feel like a child.

You may know a story told of the physicist Albert Einstein. One of his neighbors, the mother of a ten-year-old girl, noticed that her child often visited Einstein’s house. The woman wondered at this, and the child explained: “I had trouble with my homework in arithmetic. People said that at No. 112 there lives a very big mathematician, who is also a very good man. I asked him to help me. He was very willing and explained everything very well. He said I should return whenever I find a problem too difficult.”

Alarmed at the child’s boldness, the girl’s mother went to Einstein to apologize. Einstein said, “You don’t have to apologize. I have learned more from the conversations with this child than she has from me.”[1]

Einstein, as famous and ‘great’ as he was, was more than willing to welcome this child into his home to help her with her arithmetic. That was a sign of true greatest!

Jesus drives home the seriousness of his message of welcoming as a child when he says,

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42)

Jesus’ love for children is immense. In every adult, there is an inner child, full of wonder. It is only through the wonder that we can experience the glory and the greatness of God.

Our lives, as we reach adulthood and forward are filled with aspirations and challenges, experiences and pain that drag us down and discourage us from believing in beauty, love, kindness, and forgiveness. Before you know it, we can become bitter and cautious about others and guarded about ourselves.

But in Jesus, we have hope for new beginnings, new life, new innocence, and always new resurrections. For Jesus is Lord of Resurrection.

Greatness comes to us when we share with others who have nothing to share with us. Think of the young boy who shared his five loaves and two fishes with 5000 people who contributed nothing but their hunger (John 6:9). In Jesus’ eyes, this boy child was great.

So Jesus reminds us that

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:37)

Let us think about how we, at Saint John’s, welcome the child – the child in each of us? How do we welcome strangers and each other that exemplifies the innocence of a child?

This is how we should welcome Jesus and everyone we come in contact with.

Let us pray:

God, grant me the courage

to go without armor

or the privilege of being right.

Give me the humility

to renounce my imagined rank,

and take the lowest place.

Give me the heart to love without power

and serve without status,

to be last and not first,

a child in a world of big people.

God, grant me

the faith to trust my belovedness,

the wisdom to rely on your Spirit’s power,

the humility to serve,

and the courage to love.

Amen.[2]


[1]      Richard Muller, Now — The Physics of Time

[2]      Steve Garnass- Holmes, Unfolding Light

 

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Columbus, OH; 19 September 2021

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