“He stood the child in their midst, and said to his disciples,
‘Whoever receives a child such as this in my name, welcomes me.’”
We’ve seen many depictions of Jesus and the children, haven’t we?
On the cover of Children’s Bibles,
In stained glass windows in our churches
On posters taped to the wall of CCD classrooms
It is a popular scene.
But it is not the scene encountered in today’s passage.
Normally, when Jesus is pictured with children,
the scene depicts the time that the disciples were preventing parents
from bringing their children to the Lord for a blessing.
The background to today’s passage is altogether different.
and so is its message.
If you miss the context, you miss the meaning.
The passage is not about Jesus’ tenderness toward children.
Rather, it’s about the corrosive effect of social status on adults.
“Whoever receives a child in my name, receive me.”
This is a radical statement.
Is Jesus suggesting that people should
approach the almighty, the all-powerful Creator
with the same mindset with which they approach a child?
Is he saying that which impresses God is that which impresses a child?
If so, we need to ask ourselves,
“How does one go about impressing a child?”
Are children impressed with credentials like trophies, diplomas and degrees?
Are they impressed with such things as the square footage of your house,
what kind of vehicle you drive or how much money you have in the bank?
Rather, what children want to know are things like:
Will you accept them or reject them?
Will you help them or hurt them?
Can they believe you, trust you, depend on you?
Can we play a game without getting mad?
Can we forgive without getting even?
Can we smile with our heart as well as our lips?
Have you ever imagined “receiving the Lord”
in the way that you “receive a child?”
If so, what sort of interests would he entertain?
Would he smile and inquire if, when it gets dark outside,
do you like to look at the stars?
Do you like strawberries!
How fast can you ride your bike?
No doubt, today’s gospel lesson is a bit hard for adults to grasp.
Clearly, its purpose is not to reduce the story of redemption to a nursery rhyme.
But it helps us to know that, sometimes,
prayer is more fun when we see it as recess
and helping out at the parish is kind of like building a tree house!