The last part of the Gospel today is often used in the Sacrament of Baptism. It is touching to think of Jesus blessing and welcoming a little child. We are enchanted by their trusting nature and innocence. However, for us to grasp the real meaning of this passage we need to understand the place of children at the time of Jesus. People were so used to a high rate of infant and child mortality that no great expectations could be placed on children since there was no guarantee that they would live till adulthood.
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Making yourself the servant of all
What Jesus is pointing to when he places his hands around the shoulders of the little child is their lack of status. Children were simply disregarded. They had no opinions worth listening to, they had no power or authority, they had nothing to offer.
Jesus has just been talking to the disciples who were arguing about which of them should be the greatest. It is interesting to note that when Jesus first asks them the question they say nothing. They obviously felt uncomfortable and ashamed. He tells them that if anyone wants to be first he must make himself the servant of all.
Jesus’ purpose in focussing on the little child is not to give innocence a high value but to give high value to the acceptance of those without power. When you accept someone whom everyone else considers of no account; then you are welcoming Jesus himself.
Each person is created by God and is therefore of immeasurable worth. The lowest, poorest, most despised human being is a true child of God and the same high price has been paid for them as for you and me, the very life blood of Jesus himself.
We spend so much energy classifying people. We categorise almost everyone we meet: they are either friendly or not, of high class or low class, rich or poor, good or bad, liberal or conservative, to be admired or to be despised, having good taste or bad taste, having good looks or not, and so on.
Jesus indicates clearly that this is not what God does. He values people simply as people. He draws no distinction between us. He values every single one. And if there is any favour it is clearly directed towards the poor and the despised and the downtrodden. No wonder Jesus himself was judged for the company he kept and endured the death of a common criminal.
If you, at any time in your life find yourself friendless or undervalued, cut off from others or simply ignored, then think of that little child and how Jesus put his arms round them. Then think of yourself in that child’s place with the comforting protecting arms of Christ around you and feel the consolation and hope that this brings.
We all like to get recognition or to be noticed. None of us want to be ignored. Given that fact, it is the Christ like way to be aware of those who go unnoticed and are often in the background. We need to regard ourselves first and foremost as servants of others. Not easy to do but clear enough.
We do as Christ does. We bear his name and we act on his behalf in the world today. We may hold office or positions of respect, but we realise that this does not place us any higher than any of our brothers and sisters in the human family. We love the Lord and we love those whom he loves, and this includes the most disregarded ones who walk this earth.