Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
The disciples were squabbling about rank, and Jesus brought in a child to make a point about welcome. And what a point. Because he didn’t say that whoever welcomes a child does the work of the faithful. Or serves God well. Or gets brownie points. Whoever welcomes the child welcomes Jesus. And thereby welcomes God. Opens up the doors wide as wide can be and asks God to be at home.
That’s powerful. There’s nothing in this passage about education or behaviour. No support for parents or questions about anything at all, really. It’s just about welcome. And the amazing nearness of God.
There’s a coffee shop right next to my home. Nice to be neighbours of good coffee. And it’s an interesting kind of place. Old leather sofas and chairs. Long dining tables great for crowds or the whole newspaper to yourself, depending. Lots of space for strollers and one wall is painted with chalkboard paint so the kids are constantly updating murals there. They also have a white board on the wall where people write interesting quotations. You know the kind of thing. Bob Dylan. Gandi. St Mark has yet to be featured, but last week, I read this quotation there and it collided nicely with this week’s gospel:
“The children are not the future. The living truth is the future. Time and people do not make the future… Fifty million children growing up purposeless, with no purpose save the attainment of their own individual desires, these are not the future, they are only a disintegration of the past. The future is in living, growing truth.” D. H. Lawrence
I stood there for a while looking at it. Blue was tugging at me, keen to convince me that a croissant was earth-shatteringly important. A chocolate one, please. But I wanted to read the passage again and think about it. And this what I saw there. (I’m not sure where the Lawrence passage is originally from nor what the context is, so if I’m off-base with this, please gently let me know.)
In and of themselves, children aren’t a cause for hope. They are just people, like the rest of us. Words of a tired parent, maybe, but they are true, I think. Just because kids might have more time ahead of them than we do doesn’t mean that they are going to make things better for humanity as a whole. Cuteness doesn’t bring about sufficient change or the world would be far lovelier by now. But that isn’t pessimism. It’s just rejecting sentimentality.
I don’t think that Jesus pulled the child towards him to make a sweet point about children’s innocence.
Hope comes from a greater truth than mere youth. Hope comes from the capital T – Truth that lives with us and works before, between, and behind us all. Mark shows us Jesus as Truth, declaring that things change if we welcome the children rather than childishly bicker about rank. Worrying about status turns our gaze inwards on our own perception of self which will only get us tangled up in lonely ego. Welcome is vital for Christian community. It’s being open to others, being aware of their comfort – or discomfort – with a situation and setting aside our own priorities to offer them love and comfort. If nothing else, that’s what we should be teaching kids in Sunday School.
And, of course, it’s bigger than children. Just as Jesus expanded the concept of “neighbour” to include, well, everyone who needs us, I think he’ll back me up if I argue that “children” means everyone. Everyone who is smaller and weaker or needy and hungry, and maybe less courageous, or lonely, or struggling, or tired, or sad. Which sounds like the whole boatload of us, doesn’t it? We all need a welcome. We all need to feel at home.
The Reverend William Ball of Westminster Presbyterian Church Ottawa, recently posted this fantastic welcome on facebook. It comes from Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community and William found it here. It’s a long one, but it’s worth wall-space in any church lobby.
We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.
We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.
We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.
If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.
We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!