TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2018
EMBRACING THE TENDER IMAGE OF THE CHILD IN US
Readings: 1st- Wis. 2:12, 17-20; 2nd- Jas 3:16-4:3; Gospel- Mk. 9:30-37
There are two contrasting images in today’s readings: the adult-selfish-image represented by wickedness, jealousy, inordinate ambition and foul practice. Then the child-image represented by humility, service, gentleness, patience, and tenderness.
The Wisdom writer presents the conspiracy and plotting of the evil one against the innocent. The wicked sees the good person as threat and plans to destroy him. The wicked is uncomfortable where uprightness exists as we see even in today’s world. Evil gangs up against the just, “For if the just one be the son of God, God will defend him and deliver him from the hands of his foes.” The Wisdom writer reminds us of the ongoing struggle where darkness strikes to overshadow the light. Evil attempts to ridicule righteousness, “With revilement and torture let us put the just to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him” (Wis. 2:17-20). This picture foreshadows the evil plot against Christ the Son of God in the New Testament. But the light will always “shine in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it” (Jn. 1:4-5).
In the gospel Jesus is journeying through Galilee. He begins to teach his disciples about his death and resurrection. He reveals his imminent death in the hands of wicked men who will hand him over to be killed. The apostles walk along with him but aren’t paying attention. They are obsessed by their power-play mentality. They are sunk in their shameless ambition. They are concerned about greatness and are rather discussing their political positions. They fail to pay attention to the very important information from their Master. The disciples “did not understand Jesus’s saying and were afraid to question him” because of their lack of attention. They misplace their priorities. Jesus reprimands them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all” (Mk. 9:35).
To be the servant or to be the last among others is to be childlike. Jesus deepens his teaching by taking up the image of a little child. He sets the child before them and embraces him. This image is important here. The child is a standard of humility and patience which Jesus intends us to emulate. He embraces the child to demonstrate what David said in the Psalms, “A humble contrite heart, O God, you will not spurn” (Ps. 51:17).
Jesus states, “Anyone who welcomes a little child such as this in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me, welcomes not me but the one who sent me” (Mk. 9:37). To embrace the childlike spirit in us is to be God-like. Isn’t Jesus prophetic about the virtues of humility in our time? How much of the child image in us do we embrace? How often are we willing to be the last or to serve?
Interestingly, Saint James points out the dangers of suppressing the child image in us. He recapitulates the causes of conflict in our world: conflict and violence arise from our disordered nature- jealousy, ambition, and insincere desires. Wars are all over the world because we have become too ambitious. Conflicts exist in our families. Marriages are broken because of the cancer of egoism and narcissism. Homes are divided because of selfishness. The “it must be me” attitude dominates. We have let passions override the child image in us. James says, “You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain, you fight and wage war.” That is the reality. You want something, so you must fight for it. You must get it at all cost. This causes real conflict among relationships.
The husband wants to please himself. The wife wants to please herself. The son wants to please himself, so also the daughter. Each person wants to come first without considering the interest of the entire family. This is one reason why marriages have been destroyed. No one wants to let go. Humility is not part of the definition of your relationship anymore. You impose yourself and your desire upon your partner. You don’t even want to hear his/her version of the story. It is your story all the time. You want things done your way. You say, and it happens. If it doesn’t happen your way, you tune off. You withdraw. You disengage your emotions and make your wife/husband feel guilty. He/she will be the one to come to you to beg, otherwise, there is no peace in the house. You forget that a relationship where only one person says sorry all the time is a risky relationship. If you cannot say “I’m sorry” to your wife or your husband because you feel you’re never at fault, then you’re mentally sick and need a physician. Isn’t that correct? Your mind says to you, “My wife/husband is always the offender.” That way, you make your spouse the constant pursuer while you withdraw. He/she hurts you always. He/she apologizes always. If she fails to apologize, there’s fight in the house. Just know that he/she does that to make sure there is peace not because she’s always wrong. You can also do the same.
Today, Christ tells us to embrace the child-image in us. The lesson is this: You must learn to be humble. You must learn to say sorry. You must learn to make it less about you. You must learn to see things from the other person’s perspective. You must shun the ego mentality that tells you that acknowledging your fault would make you inferior. Saint James gives you the secret: pray for the wisdom from above which is “pure, peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity”. He reminds us that the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace. That is the image of the child in each of us.
I want you to go home from this Church today and think about how your attitude has contributed to either the smoothness or roughness of your relationship(s)- your marriage, family, friendship, workplace, etc. For instance, if there is serenity in your family, give some deep thoughts to what you are doing to ensure and to sustain that peace.
- Does your humility play a big part in it? I say big congratulations.
- If there is crisis in your family, think about what you are doing that has fueled that conflict. Ask yourself what you can do different.
- Can you embrace the child image in you and advocate for peace?
- Can you be humbler?
- Can you start asking for forgiveness?
- Can you become less self-centered?
- Can you make it more about your wife/husband?
- Can you make it less and less of yourself?
I believe you will have inner peace by doing that. Remember, the child stands in for each one of us before God as the standard for greatness. As Saint James says, “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (Jas 4:6). May God give us his wisdom from above to be better persons for others. Amen.