I think it a shame that pastors have the option of omitting the last portion of the Gospel just proclaimed – the part about the children. I hope they don’t exercise that option especially after Pope Francis’ display of affection and regard for children.
In this Gospel the people were bringing their children to Jesus, much like they did to Pope Francis. It was the children (urged on by their parents) who could manage to break through security the lines and approach Pope Francis – the preoccupied attention of the disciples to get to Jesus. Again the disciples just don’t get it. This has been demonstrated in the readings for the last two Sundays. Jesus has summed up his lessons pointing out the value and importance of these “little ones” in the Kingdom of God.
But once again in today’s Gospel, the disciples try to prevent people from bringing their children to Jesus. Jesus reprimands them and welcomes these children. Jesus offers the children as an example of the kind of complete trust and dependence upon God that ought to be the attitude of all believers.
The popular spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen, in his powerful meditations on Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son – says:
I saw a man in a great red cloak tenderly touching the shoulders of a disheveled boy kneeling before him. I could not take my eyes away. I felt drawn by the intimacy between the two figures, the warm red of the man’s cloak, the golden yellow of the boy’s tunic, and the mysterious light engulfing them both. But, most of all, it was the hands – the old man’s hands – as they touched the boy’s shoulders, that reached me in a place where I had never been reached before.”
His attention moves to the elder brother and finally to the father’s role in the family dynamic. Nouwen came to the realization that in life we all must mature from son (or child) to father (or parent and adult). But, he says, there is a subtle pressure in church and society to remain a dependent child. Who is it (in life) that truly challenges us to liberate ourselves from immature dependencies to accept the burden of responsible adults?
It would be comfortable, wouldn’t it, to remain in the warm embrace of childhood – on Jesus’ lap in the place of blessing. But, we don’t really want to be a child all our lives using our role as child to keep us in a safe place distanced from others. We grow in recognition that we have had blessings bestowed on us and now it is our turn to offer God’s immense love to others.
So how can we heed Jesus injunction to accept the kingdom of God like a child – or risk never entering it? What does it mean to be childlike, and not childish? What qualities is Jesus asking us to hang on to in order to enter the kingdom not only beyond the “pearly gates” but right here on earth, in our community, where God’s kingdom exists?
A few qualities I think he might encourage would be:
- Live Spontaneously – taking in every moment and the opportunities in unplanned instants.
- How about never letting a lack of qualifications deter you –If you’ve never done something before, be fearless like a child who pulls out a kitchen drawer to scramble up to the cabinet to get the peanut butter. Isn’t this how Olympic gymnasts start?
- Kids Know Exercise Can Be Fun –It’s just a matter of finding an active, healthy activity we actually enjoy doing.
- Keep an Open Mind – Keep a childlike wide open mind and you’ll learn something new every day – maybe more than one thing. Don’t let force of habit slow you down. Ask questions: you’ll never get an answer if you never ask. So, she might say NO – but did you give her a chance to say YES?
- Express your feelings – nurture and value relationships – Open, honest, direct face-to-face expression of feelings makes communication easier, maintains sincerity and integrity in your life. Children like nothing better than to “hang out” with their friends. Do you look forward to unstructured time with community members – your “sisters?”
- Use Your Imagination – Robert Kennedy get credit, but Walt Disney said it first:: If you can dream it, you can do it! If you have a creative idea, share it. If its aster, smarter or better and see what happens. You’ll never know unless you try.
- Learn by Imitation – have you ever seen a little boy walking behind this father, trying determinately to imitate his father’ stride? Or a little girl who has practiced putting on make-up just like Mommy? St. Benedict was a firm believer in the axiom: “fake it til you make it.” Live monastic traits until they become part of you.
- Play – Sometimes it’s healthy to fool around and engage in recreation for the sole purpose of having fun.
Paul in his letter to the Corinthians says: When I was a child I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became an adult, I put away with childish things. Jesus might respond: Yes, put away childish ways but hang on to the delightful child-like traits that are the keys to the kingdom.