“Whoever receives this child in my name receives me” (Luke 9:47).
Job 1:6-22; Luke 9:46-50
In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus shocked the elders and chief priests by contrasting their refusal to repent with the readiness of the tax collectors and prostitutes to do so when John preached. In today’s Gospel, Jesus contrasts the ambitious bickering of his own disciples with the innocence and humility of little children.
To be compared to children would have been jarring for the disciples as adults. In ancient cultures, children had little status apart from their value to a proud patriarch whose progeny were part of his wealth in marriageable daughters and laboring sons. High infant mortality rates may have made them seem more expendable until they survived infancy, and in modern terms, special attention to small children would have been women’s work while men managed more important affairs. When mothers brought their children to be blessed by Jesus (Mark 10; Matt 14), the disciples pushed them away as a nuisance until Jesus intervened.
So, Jesus delivers a gentle rebuke to his quarreling disciples over who was the greatest by embracing a child and telling them that to receive one such child in his name was to receive him, and to receive him was to receive the One who sent him. He makes welcoming a child the equivalent of welcoming God. If they want to be the greatest, they must become the least of all, like little children.
Jesus’ emphasis on children is needed just as much today. Though society nominally focuses on children as precious, actual public policies often neglect their needs in the areas of childcare, early education, nutritional support and abuse prevention. Children don’t vote, have no voice in public affairs and do not influence government priorities unless represented by adults. To our shame, refugee and immigrant children have suffered great harm in recent years as political pawns in official government policies at our borders.
It was President John Kennedy who reminded us that a country’s greatness is not measured by how it treats its most prominent citizens but by how it cares for its weakest and most vulnerable. How would we rate our performance today, locally, nationally and internationally? The first question any society must ask when it defines any public policy is this: “How will it affect children?”