I have always been a bit envious of those who have a distinct cultural or ethnic background. My ancestors are a hodgepodge of different nationalities so when I was in school and we were told to bring food or clothing that was symbolic of our ancestors, I was always at a loss! I wanted to wear the colorful garb of the Mexican culture, be able to claim the delicious Greek pastries or show off pictures of Indian ancestors in tribal splendor. I wanted to belong!
I think it is part of the human condition to want to belong. As infants, we long for the closeness of parents, and as children, we look to join our peers, and then as we get older we look to form families of our own. Today’s popular techno fads of Facebook and twittering probably stem from this need to belong – to connect with others.
So today’s first reading should fill us with contentment. We are God’s very own. God claims us all as His people. We have a distinct identity – we are children of God. And think about the scene depicted in the reading –children playing in the streets, old people gathering, all reflecting the safety, security, and happiness of being protected and cared for by our loving God. But as always, there is a flip side. If God claims us as his own, what is our role as God’s people?
Today’s Gospel answers that question. Once again, Jesus is telling us that we must turn our hearts and minds to the lowliest among us. Jesus uses a small child, the lowliest of beings in Jesus’ time, to point this out. He tells us to receive and accept this child as we would receive and accept God! More than that, the Gospel goes on to encourage us to accept everyone. "Whoever is not against you, is for you…" Because we live in a materialistic society that seems to thrive on competition, Jesus’ teaching here is truly counter-cultural. Perhaps in today’s world what we are particularly being called to do is put aside our differences, identify the ways in which we are alike and recognize the good in one another.
God loves and cares for us. Can we, in turn, love and care for one another?
Mary Lou Butler is a long-time friend and partner in ministry to the Passionists in California.