The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for your home
September 19, 2021 – 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Mark 9:30-37
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Children are rarely mentioned in the gospels, but when they are (like in today’s gospel) take note. Something very important is being communicated.
The disciples of Jesus were discussing where they would be placed on the organizational chart of the church after Jesus was gone. Perhaps a desire to be first is as timeless as the need for food. So they turned to Jesus to clarify matters. I wonder that, if after he told them the possibilities, they might have wished that they hadn’t asked him about this.
The one who is first, he noted, will be last and that person will serve all the rest. They will use their position and power to help others, not themselves. Then he brought forth a child, someone in many cultures who would not be considered very important. It’s worth repeating his words because they are absolutely central to how Jesus (and God) thought about such matters.
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” These may not be words we often consider but we should. They show that, in a sense, Jesus came to turn the values of the world up-side-down. We are to set aside self-centered values and humanly constructed organizations where power over others is placed with those at the top of the organizational chart.
And what better way to show this than to place focus on a child, who, if you take the gospel words seriously, represents God. We might recall other words of Jesus when he said that whatevever you do for the least, you do for me.
These references to what some call “the Great Reversal,” reminds me of something told to me about St. Francis of Assissi when I was visiting some of the places where he lived. I recall visiting a few sights, each claiming that they had a genuine relic of Francis, namely the robe he wore during the early days of the Franciscans. Then I was given a wonderful explanation. Whenever he met one of his followers who had a garment in poorer condition than his, he would exchange his for theirs. So all of those relics could be quite authentic.
I also think of parents who place their children’s needs before their own, or teachers who put their students first, or health workers who think first of their patients. Would that these examples were universal. They are at the heart of the message of Jesus.
©David M. Thomas, PhD