Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (2021)
Readings:Genesis 2:18-24Psalms 128:1-6Hebrews 2:9-11Mark 10:2-16
After a discourse about the lawfulness of divorce, purely contrived by the Pharisees, in what is an optional section of today’s gospel (which means, it does not have to be read at Mass), Jesus returns to a theme we heard proclaimed on the twenty-fifth Sunday – the importance of being a child in God’s kingdom.
Jesus’ love for children is often demonstrated, and He could not have been happier that “people were bringing children to Him that He might touch them.” The disciples, who by now should know Jesus well enough to understand his affection for children, move Jesus to a state of righteous indignation as they wrongly attempt to turn the children away. Jesus makes it clear, “let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”
I desperately tried to remember Jesus’ words this morning during the hotel’s breakfast hour. Close by, sitting at a table for four was a very pregnant mother, her two daughters, roughly three and five years of age, and the father or the grandfather (I truly think the latter since he had an uncanny ability to tune the two daughters out). The oldest daughter surely thought she was J.Lo, so in the middle of the thoroughfare on the way to the buffet she would practice what I assumed were made-up routines, stopping with great regularity to allow breakfast hounds to reach the buffet. The J.Lo gene was clearly not passed on to her younger sister, whose single talent was to stand screeching in the highest pitch that one can imagine (it will soon be a Grammy category). For those of us with hearing aids, and dogs would agree, it was a pitch which could bring tears to your eyes. Recognizing the predictability of human nature, I would like to give the disciples a pass on making Jesus indignant if there was a J.Lo and screamer in the crowd that approached Jesus. Did Jesus truly mean that “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these”?
Yes, as He did two weeks ago in the gospel, Jesus saw in children what, if truth be told, is sometimes difficult to see, but it is essential to entering the kingdom of God: “Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”
As Walter Burghardt, SJ, the great scholar and preacher reminds us, “children are refreshingly fresh, not faded and jaded by the years” of living. They are open rather than cynical, and are delighted to be surprised over and over again. Children are rarely, if ever, suspicious, if they have been given no reason to be suspicious. They are naturally trusting, and fully dependent on others for their wellbeing. Children flourish and respond well to love and affection, and most often have no claim to particular achievements, and nothing that they can claim proudly as their own. Burghardt states that “to enter the kingdom, to accept the dominion of Jesus, is not to lapse into a second childhood…..”. Rather, “it is to recapture, in adult fashion and in the face of God, the openness and nakedness, the sheer receptivity and utter dependence, that called out to a compassionate Christ, that made Him see in children what He wants to see in all His disciples.”
Jesus’ affection for children does not give adults permission to imitate the impatience, rudeness, unkindness, irritableness, jealousy, arrogance, and insatiable desire to be the center of attention which are so often seen in children. Jesus wants us to imitate what is best in all children. Jesus wants us to be dependent on Him, and to continue to seek Him out for a touch or a glance, not only when we are being dragged to Him by our parents. If we approach God as a true child we will feel the embrace of His Son, Jesus. Indeed, we will obtain His blessing, and, just as those who were lucky enough to come to Him in today’s gospel, we will feel His gentle hands on us imparting the peace and joy and harmony that only Jesus can bring.