a priest's musings on the journey

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sermonette: Proper 20B - 24 September 2006

He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." {36} Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, {37} "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me." (Mark 9:35-37)

The disciples had been arguing among themselves concerning who among them would be the greatest in the Reign of God. What is so funny about this entire conversation to me is that neither of them deserved to presume either of them would be honored in heaven. After all, they had just failed at their mission. None of them could cast away the evil spirit that was afflicting a young boy, and Jesus had to come do it. Jesus was quick to set them straight, however. Jesus taught them that in God's Kingdom, the honored ones would not be the strongest ones or the most successful ones or even the most powerful ones. Instead, the places of honor would be given to the ones who preferred others and served them. To strengthen his point, Jesus placed a small child in their midst and said, "whoever welcomes a child, welcomes me and the One who sent me."

Matthew's telling of this story makes the connection between the status of the child and the status of the disciple who is called to be like the child. It was clear to the disciples that Jesus was calling them to be the lowliest of the low. In fact, there is an Aramaic word that Jesus might have used here, talya, which can mean either servant of child. Jesus was calling them to humility and utter trust in God. But. if we look at the status of children during the time of Christ, we can see that Jesus was asking them to commit to more than a life of humility. He was asking them to give up their rights, priviledges and preferences for the sake of others.

In that culture, children did not have the same rights and status that they enjoy in our culture. Minor children were equal to slaves, and only became freed persons with maturity. If there were a fire, the child would have been the last one saved; if there was a famine, the adults would be fed first, and then the children would be given what was left over.

The disciples must have been shocked (if not offended) at Jesus' rebuke and call. Indeed, it is a hard teaching for us. It goes against everything we are taught about how to be successful by the standard's of the world. The Church often functions with the same values of the world, favoring the powerful and priviledged. in spite of its reminder to God's values of humility and meekness sunf daily in the Magnificat. What is more shocking is that Jesus seems to say that the conduit to welcoming the divine presence among us is found in being a slave to all and welcoming the lowly, forgotten, outcast, and dispossessed in our midst. Imagine how tranformed our church and communities would be if we were more faithful to living out this Christ-value.

The Episcopal Church's adoption of the MDG's, and its committment to ending poverty in our generation is a giant step toward incorporating this kindgom value in our lives. We truly welcome the child as we work for peace and justice, for sustainable communities, for education for all, and a real and true equality for every person. When I think of such a ministry, I can not help but think of Mother Teresa. She reiterated Jesus' message like this :

"Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work...Our life of poverty is as necessary as the work itself. Only in heaven will we see how much we owe to the poor for helping us to love God better because of them."

:: posted by Padre Rob+, 8:28 AM


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