Homily for the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Preached on September 23, 2018 at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, St. Meinrad IN
Readings: Wisdom 2:12, 17-20; Psalm 54:3-6, 8; James 3:16-4:3; Mark 9:30-37
My mother claims that I was the perfect child and I for one do not want to argue with that woman. She looks back at my childhood and recalls that, as a little boy, after I have played with my trucks and my cars and my Fisher-Price toys, I would dutifully—with no reminder from her—put all my toys away in a box. Apparently, I was—and still am—the sort of kid who knows how to—make that: needs to—clean up after himself.
Perhaps it is her maternal pride or my own vanity that has me convinced that, if Jesus were to pick out a child from a preschool line-up to show off to the disciples who would be the greatest, I would have been that child (cf. Mk. 9:36-37). He would have placed me in their midst and He would have said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this” (Mk. 9:37), and there would not have been any complaint or argument from those disciples. They would have agreed that I would be the perfect poster child for the Kingdom.
But, the older I get and the more I become aware of my own shortcomings, the more I realize how childish it is to think that way. I have come to recognize that Jesus would not have chosen me, an adult trapped in a boy’s body, as the example of who should come first in the Kingdom. Instead, Jesus would have picked my nephew Niko who is in every way not like me at all. My nephew is a three feet tall hurricane who leaves a mess of toys and books and crayons and scribbles in his path. He would have been the kid whom Jesus would have singled out, saying, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me” (Mk. 9:37), and I would have been in the corner, rolling my eyes along with the other disciples, and muttering to myself, “He has got to be kidding!” Jesus does not sound as if He has ever babysat a toddler in his terrible twos at all, because spending an afternoon looking after one—which, honestly, is more like running after one—would have anyone convinced that little kids are not always that great.
Then again, maybe Jesus has done some babysitting. After all, for all their cuteness and craziness, children are all the same: they do not care about how proficient I am in school, how well I have performed at work, how popular I am among my peers, or how much money I have in the bank. They know one thing: I am not mommy or daddy and right now those are the only two who really matter. Perhaps, that is why Jesus chooses a child as an example, because a child is disinterested in the games that adults play. A child does not care whether I am the greatest or the least. All that he cares about is that I give him his snack and his sippy cup or that I get him that fifth box of LEGOs from the top shelf. I think that this is what Jesus means when He says, “If anyone wishes to be the first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all” (Mk. 9:35). That sounds a lot like babysitting alright, and, just like my sister, I am pretty sure that Jesus expects me to do it for free! Maybe Jesus does know a lot about kids, both big and small, after all.
It is difficult sometimes to accept what Jesus says because I have grown up thinking that I am supposed to make good in life. But, as He has reminded the disciples so Jesus chides me to beware that, in my efforts to get ahead of everybody, I risk leaving everyone behind. He is right; the Kingdom of God is not a competition to be the best and the greatest. The point is not to beat everyone to the Kingdom but to get everyone to the Kingdom.
The older I get the more I realize that my nephew Niko does not have to be as perfect or as neurotic as I once was—or am. The Kingdom of God is way bigger than what I think it is, because if it is only for the best, the greatest, and the perfect, then I might very well end up with a big box of toys, trophies, diplomas, and cash, and no one to play with. I would have to admit that, even on earth, that is no Heaven at all.