7th Week OT (S)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Jesus says, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them. . .” Why? “[Because] the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” We have to understand this scene on two levels. First, the literal sense: Jesus is addressing his disciples and indignantly rebuking them for trying to keep a bunch of children away from him. Apparently, it was considered undignified for a rabbi to be swamped by a gang of grubby kids! Second, the spiritual sense: though he doesn't say so explicitly, our Lord is teaching us that keeping our children from him is an injustice. If the kingdom belongs to them (and it does), then interfering with our children coming into the kingdom deprives them of what is rightly theirs. As ever, Jesus is being very practical here. It is well and good that adults come into the kingdom. But if the Good News of God's freely given mercy to sinners is to survive beyond one generation, the Church needs children. And not just persons who happen to be minors. Jesus adds, “. . .whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Being a child in the kingdom is both a matter of age and attitude. What does it mean to be child coming into the kingdom?
When we think of children we likely think of the Ideal Child. Sweet, loving, innocent, obedient, curious, a walking-talking blank slate upon which parents impress their values. If you have children or spend much time with them you know all too well that children are perfectly capable of being angry, petty, rebellious, stubborn, and greedy. In other words, they can be just as vicious as any adult. Jesus must know this, so we have to wonder what he means by “accepting the kingdom as a child.” He can't mean “imitate the adult attitudes of children.” And he can't mean “think and act in a childish manner.” He must mean something like “run to me and embrace me like these children do.” What do children forget when they see someone they love? They forget manners, protocols; they focus on the loved one and demand attention; they simply assume that they must be the be-all and end-all of the loved one's life. . .at that moment. Nothing matters more right then and there than being close to the one they love. Rushing head-long, abandoning dignity and social grace, they leap; they cling, forgetting and forgiving, rejoicing simply in being with the one they love. Does this describe your attitude and behavior toward Christ and his Church?
More than likely, you, like me, tend to stand off a bit from Christ and his Church—analyzing, debating, weighing options, waiting for the Right Moment to leap. Having been disappointed too often by the all too human foibles of the Church, we choose to gamble wisely when it comes to surrendering ourselves. We want to know if the Church is going to accept just as I am. Will I be welcomed? Will I be called upon to do something I don't want to do? Does leaping into Christ's arms mean that I have to change something I don't want to change? Will I have to face my fears and failures and try to make things right? The answer to all these questions is Yes. And that's frightening. So, we hang back, calculate the odds, map out an escape route, and slowly dip a toe into the water to make sure we're going to be comfortable. Here's the bad news: following Christ isn't about being comfortable. It isn't about being safe and security in our OK-ness. I'm not OK; you're not OK and that OK b/c we're heading toward being fully OK in Christ. That is, if we look our children and their freakish abandon when embracing the ones they love. Following Christ is first about leaping into his arms, into the lap of Mother Church, and surrendering everything, all of it to our wild desire to be loved forever. The kingdom does not belong to those who calculate the odds, weigh their options, and try to negotiate a better deal. There is no better deal than the mercy of God. So, leap!