Jesus and his disciples have entered a private home where they’re welcomed by their hostess. They’re settled comfortably on cushions on the floor. All is quiet until Jesus asks: “What were you talking about out there on the road?” He knew exactly what they were discussing: who’s next in the line of succession? They are like children who don’t want to tell their parents what they’ve been talking about. Jesus doesn’t push for an answer. He won’t humiliate or embarrass them. Instead, He beckons forward a child. Why a child? Well, a child can’t make you more important in the eyes of the world. However, a child can teach you much about ministry!
The disciples probably recalled the incident when they started to shoo the children away. Jesus had chided them saying: “Let the children come to me.” I suspect Jesus is so comfortable with children because of their innocence, uncluttered faith, and their often startling way of exposing the bold truth; saying it just like it is. Jesus sees the inherent worth and value in everyone and, therefore, welcomes children just as they are. It is not a detached encounter that Jesus has with the child. He makes the child an active participant in his lesson. He took the child, he placed the child among them, and he put his arms around the child. In fact, this child, whom society deemed as lacking in worth, was of so much value to Jesus that he moved the child from the margins to the center. Living on the margins, children can be forgotten, ignored and left to figure out the mysteries of life on their own. You’ve heard the quote “it takes a village to raise a child.” It’s true – it is in the center of life that children can receive the love, support, and encouragement they need to thrive and grow to become productive, good-hearted, trustworthy, faithful citizens.
Children growing up today in our country are in precarious, fragile, and dangerous places. They have music, popular culture, technology, violence and sexuality sown into the fabric of their lives in ways that to date are unparalleled. There is perpetual, uncontrolled text messaging and exposure to other social media, Nintendo, Wiis, X-boxes, CDs and peer pressure to participate in dangerous activity. Today, maybe more than ever, children are abused, snatched, neglected (or the opposite over-protected by “helicopter” parents) or labeled with an alphabet of disorders (ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia) and hastily placed on medication without proper diagnosis.
There are latch-key kids, under-fed, lonely, ignored children and many are victims of inadequate health care. Now, more than ever, vulnerable children need to be embraced by the church just as Jesus embraced children. If the church leaves out children, it is leaving out a face of God. If policy-makers leave out children, they place their own future in jeopardy – forgetting who it is that is going to be caring (or not) for them in their sunset years.
Jesus is talking about welcoming the one who is beyond the circle, one who needs a welcome. So, here’s the question Jesus is asking us: Who are the people without power or status in our society? Do we serve them willingly? At the deepest level, Jesus’ idea of service reminds us that none of this is about us! It’s not about our ego. It’s not about how much we give, how much we work, how many hours we minister, whose ministry is more important. Service is about absorbing the sufferings of our world by sharing our life – our time, our resources and our gifts. It’s building-up the other so that she or he in turn is enabled to be Christ to others.
Jesus asked his disciples: “What were you arguing about on the road?” Every time we travel with Jesus we are “on the road.” Because Jesus himself is the Road: he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We are being asked what we are doing while on the Way. The disciples refused to answer and kept silent. Will you be a silent one? Or will you speak out on behalf of the needy ones? The ones Benedict is referring to in RB 72, when he advises: “Anticipate one another in honor, not following what you consider useful for yourself, but rather what benefits the other.”
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB