By Sarah Cornwell
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 18:1-9
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a child, whom he put among them, 3 and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
6 “If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of stumbling-blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling-block comes!
8 “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.”
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Has Jesus ever met a child? They’re little sociopaths. They are the centers of their own tiny universes, and adults exist to constantly feed them, clothe them (which is often resisted), give them undivided attention so they can tell you about something that is often nonsensical or mind-numbingly boring, and wipe their bums. The child Jesus places in the midst of the disciples is often depicted as a docile angel. In reality, I bet that kid was picking his nose knuckle-deep.
Anyone who has been around children knows they’re not perfect, not even my own children, bless them. Jesus was not ignorant of this. When Jesus places a child in the midst of the disciples, and tells them that they must welcome the child, he is asking them to do something extremely hard. Anyone can welcome a sweet, Hallmark-card child. It’s a continual challenge to welcome real, tiny humans with all of their inconvenient needs. How like Jesus it is to ask us to do what is hard.
And his directive gets harder still. He asks us to become like children. No, we shouldn’t start eating our boogers and wearing pants on our heads. What Jesus is asking us to do is exercise radical humility. It is practically unheard-of in adults but so abundant in children. Ninety-five percent of my day is telling my kids to alter their behavior. And they do it! They forget and frequently need to be reminded, but they accept authority. How often are we as adults willing to be molded this way? When we omit any of the more challenging ways in which the Lord is seeking to teach us, are we neglecting to be like children, messy yet moldable? Perhaps a timeout is in order, so that we can reflect on our behavior and resolve to do better.
Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.
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Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Huron (Anglican Church of Canada)
Christ Episcopal Church, San Antonio, Texas