Welcome the “Little Children”
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
Jesus took a little child and put it among them; and taking it his arms, he said to them “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me…” - Mark 9:37
My only brother, who lives on the other side of the world, is a proud father of an almost four year old girl. Recently, I received some photos of my niece. She looks so cute and so adorable. Now that’s just my unbiased and objective opinion! My brother and my sister-in-law love my niece very much and they are intent on giving her the very best things in life. Indeed, my niece is very lucky because she is well cared for. I know that not all children in our poverty stricken country are as lucky as her. Some are condemned to live a life of extreme poverty. Many children do not get the necessities of life. Many go hungry everyday. Many do not get to go to school. Many do not have a home where they could live safely. Many roam the streets homeless, many having been abandoned by their parents who could not afford to raise them. And the list goes on. This is true in many poor countries and this is true in rich countries like the United States where one out of four children lives below the poverty line. In New York City alone, which is one of the affluent cities in the world, there are 10,000 homeless children.
Today, we read in Mark’s Gospel (9:37) about Jesus who blessed and hugged children, saying “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me…” In another part of Mark’s Gospel (10:14), Jesus said something similar: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. What was so special about children in Jesus’ eyes? Is it because children are cute? Is it because children seem angelic, pure and innocent? Perhaps! But there is more to it than just cuteness.
In the time of Jesus, it was common enough for people, and when I say, people, I mean non-Jews, to literally throw away an unwanted child, especially if the child was female, to throw the infant or child in some gutter or a garbage dump or some off-beaten road somewhere, leaving the child to die. And it was not uncommon for people to give away or sell their unwanted children as slaves. In fact, if a Roman father sold his child and that child attained his freedom, the father could sell that child again. A child had no rights and protection under the law. So the child occupies the very bottom of the society. They were simply “nobodies.” That was the reason why the disciples wanted to drive the children away from Jesus because children were simply “nobodies.” But Jesus got angry at the disciples for shooing the children away. Jesus gathered the children around him, hugged and blessed them, and said that whoever loved and cared for these “ nobodies” also loved Jesus. Jesus himself identified with the fate of the children. But in identifying himself with the lot of children, what Jesus was doing was identifying with people whom society ignored and rejected as “nobodies.” For Jesus, the children were more than children. For Jesus, the children were representative of any part of humanity that had fallen victims to human injustice. For Jesus, children represented all people- young and old- who had received the short end of the stick. So when Jesus commanded that all should welcome children, in effect, what he was truly saying was we must show compassion, mercy and hospitality to everyone- young and old, children or adult- around us who are suffering because of poverty, prejudice or human injustice.
It would have been quite shocking for those who heard Jesus talking of God as favoring “nobodies.” People would have been appalled of Jesus’ talk that the Kingdom of God belongs to those society considered as “rejects.” But what Jesus was doing something quite radical here. When he said that the Kingdom belonged to the children, what he was doing was lifting up the lowly and elevating the very downtrodden, he was lifting up the “nobodies.” In effect, what Jesus was saying was in God’s Kingdom, everybody would be somebody. Jesus was saying that those who society rejected as “nobodies” were equally precious and beloved by God and therefore they would have a place in God’s Kingdom. Jesus was saying that in God’s Kingdom there would be no rejects; in God’s Kingdom, there would be no throwaways.
As part of our sinful human condition, we cannot help it but build walls of separation among us. From the beginning of human history, we cannot help it but to group people between the powerful and the powerless, between the haves and the have not, between the “in crowd” and the outsiders, we group people as “somebodies” while others we treat as nobodies. The message for us today is this. People who feel that they have no importance in society, people who feel they are somewhat living in the fringes of society, feeling powerless and marginal, they are reminded by the Gospel that God has not forgotten them, that God loves them, and that that their suffering is not willed by God. The message of the Gospel is one of promise to them in which this unjust situation will not prevail.
But there is a challenge for us too. We must look upon our lives and ask the hard question: do we perpetuate such unjust division among us? Do we categorize people between “somebodies” and nobodies? Do we treat everyone with equal respect, reverence and attention or do we pay more homage to those who are have more money, more prestige, more titles, more education, more material things in life, more successful and ignore those who are not?
Let me end here with an ancient Jewish wisdom saying: whenever a human person walks down the streets, the invisible angels of God precedes that person shouting, “Make way, make way for the image of God.” All people are God’s image deserving of respect and reverence. The least among us is not a “nobody.” The least among us is a “somebody “for he or she is the image of God.
2011 Noel E. Bordador
Noel Bordador is a gay Filipino priest in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
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