25TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
In our Gospel for this Sunday we begin with the second prediction of the passion. Like many things in the biblical tradition, a threefold repetition gives emphasis and dignity to the pronouncement. The predictions are also a reminder to us that Jesus was not surprised by the later events in Jerusalem; he had seen them on the horizon for a great part of his journey. The predictions are each constructed in the same way with Jesus’ teaching followed by misunderstanding. Towards the end of this Gospel Jesus brings the child to centre stage and instructs his disciples: “Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” In this instance Jesus doesn’t ask his disciples to become like children; he asks his disciples to welcome them. The disciples have a problem about welcoming littleness because they think that they are at the top of the tree and are above this. This basic Christian teaching, common to all the Gospels, is one that has not always been honoured. “To be first in the group is to occupy the last place and to be a servant to the group.”
That means to be the greatest you must make yourself the least in service of other people especially those around you. Jesus taught his followers the true meaning of leadership. Leadership does not mean power but service. Power often strangles life and brings a slow death. But, service brings life, even from death itself. An attitude of serving others should not be a triumphal attitude lording it over everyone else, yet much of our history has been about individuals seeing themselves as better than everyone else. In this passage we listen to the words of Jesus about the child he tells us “Whoever receives a child like this in my name receives me. Whoever receives me receives God”. In the first part, the disciples are told that a measure of their discipleship is their attitude to power. In the second part, discipleship can be judged on the disciple’s attitude to children who are powerless in many ways. We only have to think about the 3 year old refugee migrant boy Aylan Kurdi who was washed up on the shore of a Turkish beach recently to know that this is so true. This horrible event along with all the migrants that have died in recent times remind all of us that Life is precious. Jesus compares himself to the little child, the one who cannot resort to power tactics when threatened or maltreated. Jesus’ protection is his Father; his trust is placed in the God who will ensure his protection. When suffering comes, Jesus refuses to abandon trust in the Father. That trust makes him vulnerable, like a little child, but unless the disciples can come to welcome that vulnerability they will never understand the way of Jesus.
When we welcome the stranger we might understand what Jesus means in this Gospel reading that wee bit better. Jesus offers us a permanent challenge to welcome the powerless, to take to heart the weakest members of the community. He places himself in their company. Their vulnerability is something that Jesus not only shares but values. May we understand that to be be first in the group is to occupy the last place and to be a servant to the group.” May we take up the challenge that Jesus places before us in this gospel reading and that challenge is to become humble servants of those who need us whoever they are.