I love these Gospel verses! Nestled between Jesus’ discussion on divorce, where he shares God’s design for marriage, and the parable of the rich young man. Some biblical commentaries suggest that Jesus is highlighting two things: the most vulnerable in society; and an invitation to us as adults to re-capture the essence of what it means to be a child to whom the Kingdom of heaven belongs. To strive to be “such as these” is our daily call and challenge.
In his letter to the Corinthians Paul writes, “…when I became a man, I put aside childish things” (1 Cor 13:11b) which seem at odds with Jesus’ words, yet, I believe both messages have relevance here. As we grow up we must hold on to our joy, trust, and optimism (humility) but put aside our childish pettiness (ego)….so simple J.
I was born into a large Irish family being the first of 8 children. My parents have 25 grandchildren and are expecting their 10th great-grandchild next month. In my family children are always showered with love and affection—what a true gift my parents, Joe and Ailish, have modeled for us. As I reflected on the visual of Jesus “laying hands on them”, I see the human element of touch is what brings children—and all of us—to Jesus.
In the reading, we are told that “Children were brought to Jesus” no mention specifically of parents—so perhaps we as community bring the children. We together are the body of Christ called to reach out and share the human touch of Christ. This was not a one-time event; this is our ongoing responsibility—bringing “our” children to Jesus, “….and do not prevent them.”
We would do well to consider if there are times when we might unknowingly put obstacles in their way. If they encounter unconditional love they are more likely to accept themselves as loved when they grow into adulthood. Sadly, the opposite is true, if not modelled for us we struggle to come to understand we are loved by God—unconditionally. It will be easier for our children to come to know a loving and merciful God—the one Ezekiel speaks about in the first reading—when I exhibit those traits.
This past year, children have been in the news in all manner of vulnerable situations. I am often moved to tears when I see the suffering brought to rest on those young shoulders and feel so helpless to do anything. I am struck by the enormity of life as it should NOT be for them. In light of their hardships I wonder how they will ever come to understand they are loved totally and completely by God.
The message of the cross is here too –pain and suffering exist—for now; and it exists even as we strive to help bring about the kingdom. Lord, we hope and trust in your merciful love, lay your hands on us all, give us a new heart and a new spirit, transform our mourning into joyful dancing. Amen.
Jean Bowler is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, and a member of the Office of Mission Effectiveness Board of Holy Cross Province.