25th Sunday – Receiving the Child

Buttercups and Daisies, Hugh Cameron

Mark 9:30-37

We have today, the second of the three predictions of the Passion. Jesus leaves the crowds and takes his disciples on a field trip. He keeps this secret because what he has to say to the disciples is extremely important. They can’t afford to be distracted. He tells them that he is about to suffer and die and be raised again. And they react in the most appropriate way. They start arguing amongst themselves who is the greatest. Each time Jesus predicts the Passion, it always provokes such a reaction among the disciples. Don’t you think that’s odd? This is the one they love – and they do love Jesus, you can’t minimise that. You would think they would be sad, they would be puzzled, they would object – maybe they don’t want to object after seeing Peter cut down to size. But to argue who is the greatest, that seems downright rude, insensitive, let alone inappropriate.  But when you understand it from the point of view of the Cross, it makes perfect sense.

The Cross for us is so much an image of Christianity’s triumph that we have forgotten what it is about. This triumph, the victorious Cross that we see, is a promise, an assurance for us – not the starting point. The Cross was an instrument of torture, designed to destroy the person in every way. They were degraded, tortured and died a slow and painful death, rejected by everyone. The Cross in our lives is what comes to destroy us. And before this Cross we are powerless. One who was nailed to the Cross was completely passive, unable to move his arms or legs. It left one powerless and humiliated. Whoever you claimed to be, once on the Cross, you were reduced to nothing. We all have a Cross in our lives. In that sense, it can represent our deep rooted fears, the shame, the guilt and everything we try to keep hidden from others. For this thing which is so unacceptable within ourselves, we try to put out our best face in all other kinds of things. To compensate for this powerlessness we experience, we have to compete and succeed, establish as much control as possible for ourselves. We have to prove to ourselves and others that we are better. This is what the disciples do.  So far, the disciples have been content to follow Christ, and everything seems to be going as it should. Jesus was healing everyone, performing miracles, being successful. Everyone loved him – and them – all was good. And now he says that he will be crucified. The most horrid thing to happen to a Jew, let alone one who was called the Messiah. Their worst fears surface and immediately, they start to compete with each other on who is the greatest. And Jesus calls them to himself, and says they have to receive this little child. 

Why a child? Children were lowest in terms of their importance in ancient society. No one could boast of being the friend of children. But there’s more. Children are vulnerable completely, because they don’t have a defence. They are power-less. It is only when they grow up they will be taught to play the game of competition. The child doesn’t know who she is by comparing herself with the child next door. In their receptivity to love, they receive everything as gift. They don’t think whether they are worth the love of their parents – they expect to be loved. And Jesus says, receive this child – in so doing, you’ll be receiving me and the Father who sent me.

Where and how do we do this? In many ways, here we see the triumph of the Cross that in Christian cultures – even post-Christian ones, we value those who are vulnerable and weak. This was completely alien to the ancient mentality. And whenever, wherever we give of ourselves, especially to those who are weak, we are receiving this child. But this happens most naturally, in the family. Last week we heard in the gospel, Jesus’ injunction that his disciple must renounce himself, carry his cross and follow him. When you get married, you make a vow to renounce yourself. I no longer belong to myself, I belong to you – and you to me. It is not without reason that newly weds often go through this crisis, they suddenly realise their lives are no longer about themselves, to do as they please. It is a death to self – and it is good. But it is in this place, where this person has promised to always be there, out of love, the things we have kept hidden can be brought to the surface. The Cross, which is destroying us can become an instrument of healing and salvation. But if coming to terms with the other person was difficult, then children come along – and there is another crisis. Your life now revolves around taking care of them. They dictate pretty much everything about your life. It is a constant dying to oneself which cannot be escaped. It is meant to make you a saint. On a side note, this is also the reason why the Church is against co-habitation. Cohabitation is not a preparation for marriage, it is the antithesis of marriage. There you’re not giving of yourself to another, you’re checking to see whether the other will match up to you. And while in marriage you say, I accept all of you, the good, bad and ugly, in cohabitation, you’re ready to bolt once something you don’t like surfaces. And children – they are not received, they are a problem!

It is not without reason, that parents often talk about how, it was in loving their child they got to experience anew the love of God for themselves. They suddenly had a new knowing of what it meant to be a child of God. What it meant to be loved unconditionally. Here you know that you can be loved without reason, simply for Love’s sake. In this, we triumph through the Cross. In this, we know God’s salvation.

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