Today’s reading: Mark 9:33-37
They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
One of the enduring images in Christian art and of Christmas is that of the Madonna and Child. Today the image from our reading is of Jesus and a child instead.
This is actually an image of St Joseph holding the Christ child – I struggled to find a picture of Jesus holding a child (well one that wasn’t nauseating!) Image source
This isn’t the only occasion Jesus refers to children to make a teaching point. Other occasions are when he says:
“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” (Matt 11:25)
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18: 3 – Matthew’s account of today’s reading from Mark)
and perhaps most famously:
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matt 19:14)
Although today’s reading doesn’t appear to have much to do with advent or Christmas, it does continue a theme we’ve already touched upon. That of the way God seems to choose the ‘wrong’ people, or the people the world wouldn’t choose. A friend of mine once said that that was his favourite thing about Christianity: our God turns the world’s morality on its head. It’s the great reversal – the weak made strong, the poor made rich – you only have to read the Beatitudes to see how radical Jesus was in his teaching. It doesn’t make sense in the world’s eyes. It doesn’t always make sense in my own eyes either.
What did Jesus mean when he said: “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” ?
I’m not sure I completely ‘get’ it, but I think he’s saying, “look at how I look at people, I don’t look at their status or qualifications or looks or personality. Accept the people who you would choose last and you accept me. Reach out to that difficult person, and you accept me and reflect the image of God.”
As we looked yesterday, God chooses the lowliest people to share the most important news ever shared.
Who would you pick to share God’s message today?
Jesus did a very powerful thing picking up that child. It’s a wonder the image of Jesus holding a child didn’t become as common as that of the Madonna and Child, and in some ways a shame, as there is some deep teaching in this that I am still trying to explore.
My thanks to @antheald who told me on Twitter that there are a lot of Orthodox icons of Jesus blessing the children that aren’t nauseating. Here’s a link to one: http://www.comeandseeicons.com/icxc/cst02.jpg
and a beautiful painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder: