Mark 9:30-37
Whoever Receives One Child by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.

Jesus and his disciples left from there and began to journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it.  He was teaching his disciples and telling them, "The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise."  But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him.

They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, "What were you arguing about on the way?"  But they remained silent.  They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.  Then he sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all."  Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, "Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me."

In our Gospel passage for this Sunday, Jesus explains to His disciples what will happen to Him down the road.  It is a recipe that starts with a hearty stock of being "handed over," continues with a generous portion of suffering and concludes with a final serving of death.  It is not a meal for a delicate stomach.  St. Mark is quick to explain that the disciples failed to understand Jesus' words and were afraid to ask any questions.

I think that the disciples do not want to hear Jesus talk about suffering for several reasons.  First, they genuinely care for Jesus and do not want Him to suffer.  Second, this plan does not make any sense to them at the time.  Jesus can do much more good for God the Father if He just keeps healing people, preaching great sermons, performing miracles and attracting large crowds.  Third, the disciples do not like this message because it means that they too might have to suffer if they want to remain His disciples.  So, they ignore Jesus' words, hoping that He will not bring up the issue again.

In reality, the story gets worse.  After failing to grasp and then ignoring a difficult message from Jesus about His impending passion, the disciples throw salt in the wound by engaging in a conversation about which of them is the greatest.  How could they be so cold and insensitive?  The Lord had just told them that He would be betrayed and put to death, and they proceed to argue over who is the greatest among them.

Jesus, the consummate teacher, filled with patience and a burning desire to educate His disciples about this new way of life, sits down with them and explains a lesson about humility.  To begin with, Jesus explains that in His kingdom, the first shall be the last of all and the servant of all.  He flips upside down the common approach to life, putting the servant ahead of the one who is served.  In His kingdom, greatness is equated with exhibiting a heart for serving your neighbor.

Then, Jesus, also the consummate youth minister, offers an image to go along with His message.  Jesus takes a child, places him in their midst, puts His arms around him and says, "Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me."

Jesus is speaking volumes with this act.  Children are a critical part of His kingdom.  Recall His words: "Let the children come to me and do not hinder them for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these:" (Mark 10:14) and "Unless you change and become like children, you cannot enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 18:3)  He is declaring that ministering to children is a critical part of building the kingdom and proclaiming the good news. "Receiving" children is a path to humility, a great example of being the last of all and the servant of all.  So, Jesus is extolling parents, teachers, youth ministers, coaches and all who welcome and serve young people, and He is reminding them of the tremendous responsibility that they have in His name.  They have been called by God to serve His precious little ones.

Lord Jesus, we turn to You in prayer this day.  Deepen our faith in You.  Do not let us ignore the reality, the importance and the intensity of Your passion and death.  In fact, let us grow every day in our appreciation of all that You endured for our salvation, especially through a regular and faith-filled participation in Mass.  May we embrace the invitation to learn humility and the lesson of being the last and the servant of all by receiving and welcoming children in Your holy name.  May we love them, honor them, encourage them, support them, teach them, counsel them, help them to discover their talents, develop their leadership skills, journey with them and bring them to a deep faith in You.  Amen.

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