Cycle “B” -- The Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (2015) Lectionary: 134 (WIS 2:12,17-20;PS 54:3-4,5,6, and 8; JAS 3:16-4:3; MK 9:30-37) Jesus brings the child to the center of the room and puts His arm around the child's shoulder. We immediately flash on all the pictures of Jesus with a group of children we have seen hanging on the walls of a multitude of Sunday School classrooms. Strains of “Jesus Loves the Little Children” play softly in the background. And we gush, “How precious!” We are so conditioned by the modern Western idealization of children as innocent almost angelic beings with a special place in the cosmos, beings who are founts of deep wisdom of life and the center of the everyone's thoughts and priorities – a construct by the way that was invented in Victorian England less than 200 years ago – so conditioned by this rosy picture that we totally miss the point of what is going on in the Gospel today. In Jesus's time and culture and in pre-industrial cultures in general, and in fact, still in many cultures today, children are unimportant. It is not that parents didn't or don't love their kids and care for them and protect them. But kids are culturally of no consequence. They have no power. Their opinions do not matter. They are to be seen and not heard. Kept out of the way of adults because they tend to get underfoot like dogs and cats. Jesus chooses one who is “little”, who counts for nothing and puts him in the center. “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.” (MK 9:37) To receive the poor, the humble, those who count for nothing is to minister to Christ and His Father. Jesus has just finished explaining to the disciples who were arguing about their places in the Kingdom of God's pecking order that the one who leads is the servant of all. Jesus takes advantage of a double-meaning in the language to make His point. “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” The word for servant here in the Greek is diakonos from which we get our word deacon. “Taking a child, he placed it in the their midst” The word for child here in the Greek is paidion from which we get our word pediatrician among others. But Jesus and His hearers spoke Aramaic. In Aramaic the word for “child”, talya, is also the word for “servant” (A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, 1969, commentary on MK 9:36). A servant, like a child, is humble, is “little”, of no account. Jesus's disciples would have immediately connected “servant” and “child” and noted the contrasting roles of the two. The greatest in the Kingdom is the one who makes himself the least so that he can serve the least, those marginalized by the world. How unlike our own natural inclination to be the greatest, to be first! The letter of James helps us diagnose this: Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice..... Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. We have heard this before, as recently as three weeks ago, Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile. (MK 7:15, 21-23) What comes out of us is what produces the rebellion and violence described in the book of Wisdom today: Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training.... Let us condemn him to a shameful death; From there it is just a short jump to “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him.” Jesus is saying the disciples' desire to be the greatest is what sends Him to the Cross. Our need to be first, to be great, to be always the most important person in the room, that root of pride, is how each of us helps to crucify Jesus. In contrast, St. James tells us The wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace. Sounds a lot like “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (GAL 5:22-23). We have come full circle. Here we have the plan of action for the least serving the least among us, both the child and the servant. “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (MK 10:45) We are called to become servants, spending our lives in service to those around us who are forgotten and discarded by those who have or want to have all power and importance. As we heard last week: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (MK 8:34) Come! Let's follow Jesus. Praised be Jesus Christ!