The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark.
Jesus and his disciples passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” ( Mark 9:30-37)
It was Thanksgiving Day and the first grade teacher asked her children to draw something that they were thankful for. She knew most of these children were from the poor neighbourhood around the school, and had little to be thankful for, but she also knew that most of them would draw turkeys.
So she was taken aback when little Douglas handed her his picture. It was of a hand, very simply drawn. She held up the picture for all to see, and asked if anyone could guess whose hand it was
One child said, “I think it is the hand of God that brings us food.” Another said, “ A farmer. Because he grows turkeys.” There were many other ideas of what the hand represented, but it wasn’t until all the others were at work that the teacher bent over Douglas’s desk and asked him whose hand it was.
“It’s your hand, teacher, “ he mumbled.
She was surprised, but then she remembered that frequently at recess, she had taken Douglas, a scrubby forlorn child, by the hand.
She often did this with other children, but it had obviously meant much more to Douglas. Perhaps, she thought, this was what Thanksgiving should be for; not to remember the things we have received, but to be thankful for the chance, in whatever small way, to give something to others.
Thanks-giving – thanks for being able to give?
Today we heard that Jesus brought a child forward, perhaps it was Peter’s child, and said to his disciples, “When you welcome even a child, you welcome me. And when you welcome me you welcome the one who sent me.”
Well, what’s so unusual about welcoming a child? We all love children, don’t we? Who can look at their little faces, so open and so frank, and so accepting, and not welcome them?
Jesus was fond of turning things around, however. Like when he said, “If you want the place of honor, you should take the lowest place – you should serve the others.”
Remember also, ‘Those are first will be last, and those who are last will be first,’ and so on?
So it was with that example of a child.
In that society, children were last. Oh they were loved, but they ranked lower than slaves in the hierarchy of the time. They didn’t contribute anything, and in an economic system where the ordinary person would be lucky to get one meal a day, children would be fed last.
Unwanted babies, mostly girl babies, were left outside to die of exposure.
Actually, things are not so different today. In some societies, children are still not valued. Some are sold into prostitution or domestic slavery. Some are forced to work at looms, for ten or twelve hours a day, weaving carpets for export to the West.
What Jesus was saying when he called that child to him was that the lowest member of society, the dregs, if you like, must be loved and wanted, and treated with respect. And served!
Who are the dregs of our society?
Surely those addicted to drugs have to be right in there.
I remember some time ago, a newspaper reporting on the placement of safe injection sites for drug users in Vancouver, and as part of that story, showed a young woman, emaciated, gaunt, injecting herself with the drug she must have.
The veins in her arms were so damaged that she had to inject herself in her neck. There was a picture of her doing this with the help of a piece of mirror.
I was full of compassion for the woman, that she had this deadly compulsion, but I was disgusted that the paper would show her degradation. The desire for a news story, seemed to outweigh any consideration of that woman’s innate worth as a human being.
Who was the greatest – the photographer trying to get a scoop, by using this woman, or the people who set up safe sites?
In Jesus’ day, people on the fringes, had no-one to help them, because people reasoned that they were sinners. If they hadn’t sinned, then surely God would have blessed them more fully.
We hear a similar rationale applied to afflicted people today, don’t we? “ It’s their own fault. They shouldn’t get mixed up with drugs in the first place,” we might say.
Thank God there is now a little more understanding of the complex problems that lead to self-destructive behaviour.
Someone once said that you can tell how just a society is by how it takes care of its old people.
I would expand that to say that you can tell how just a society is by the way it takes care of the unwanted.
I think that most people reading the story of that young woman would agree that such people should be helped – cared for – in some way.
But there are those whose needs aren’t so obvious. Some people kind of just manage to function – they get along, but not well.
The single mother with four kids, and no job, for example. The lonely man who drinks himself into a stupor on a week-end but still manages to drag himself into work on Monday. The old lady who can’t clean house any more, and doesn’t eat well enough, and whose clothes are shabby.
The young people who hang about on the street till past midnight when they should be home and in bed, but they are avoiding their parents and their parents don’t care anyway. They aren’t the lowest in society. We may not even notice them, and if we did, we would find them not so easy to welcome, wouldn’t we?
But “The one who welcomes such as these welcomes me,” said Jesus. “And the one who welcomes me welcomes the One who sent me.”
You know, the disciples had been talking about who would be the leaders when Jesus was king. They didn’t know yet, that instead of being seated on a throne he would be nailed to a cross. They had yet to learn that the greatest reward comes from serving others.
The thing is, that when he asked what they were talking about they didn’t want to say,
As if he didn’t know.
If we humbly and sincerely ask Jesus to be a part of our life, I believe he will become – a part of our life – and we will be able to live a life worthy of him; a life that sees him even in those less fortunate, less able,” less worthy.”
I remember a friend of mine telling me about his little boy. This particular Sunday evening, his mom took the little guy to bed and kissed him goodnight. When his dad, looked in later to see if his son was asleep, he found him kind of sitting up, wedged with his pillow against the wall, and still awake.
So he asked his son, why he wasn’t lying down and sleeping, and the little boy said, “I don’t want to hurt Jesus.”
“What do you mean?” his dad asked, “How can you hurt Jesus?”
“In Sunday School today they said Jesus was in my heart. I don’t want him to fall over.”
Well, when we reject Jesus, he doesn’t fall over. But when we reject the lowliest of all, we do reject him.
The first-grade teacher who gladdened the heart of little Douglas just by taking his hand, realised that we should be thankful just for the opportunity to offer a helping hand to someone.
We can’t change the world by ourselves. We can’t be there for everyone. But there will be moments when we can contribute in some small way, There will be opportunities to serve someone in real need, and co-incidentally serve the Son, and the One who sent him.
You know, a little while ago, the papers were full of stories about some young man, a ‘Canadian Idol.’ One report said that since his victory, wherever he goes, people jostle each other just to shake his hand.
We can touch the hand of God Himself!