By the Reverend Dr. David Sinclair
Jesus said: ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’ Today the theme of the readings is that of ‘wisdom’. James challenges us to look at where our wisdom, such as it might be, comes from; does it come, in his words, ‘down from above’, or is it ‘earthly’, ‘unspiritual’, even ‘devilish’? He talks about the things that cloud our vision, things that get in the way of wisdom: envy, jealousy, wanting what we can’t have, demanding of others what we cannot achieve ourselves.
Jesus finds his disciples displaying these very traits, arguing among themselves about who is the greatest – and Jesus, not for the only time, is exasperated with them. So, at the end of the passage from Mark, he puts a child in the centre of the conversation. What does it mean to understand wisdom in the context of a child?
There is much in our world today that speaks of children and of childhood in sentimental, romantic, idealistic, utopian ways – ways that forget or ignore the lives many children lead, and always through the centuries have led. They see childhood as unsullied, innocent, pure – and manage to sidestep what is the reality for so many so often.
We have had many images of children placed before our eyes, and our judgement, and our attempts at wisdom, in the last days and weeks. So this morning, let’s take some time to look at some of these images and, in the quietness, meditate on what this wisdom of Jesus might mean.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
So let us consider the hope we place in our children, that they will lead us to a better way of living, a better way of being. And let us think of the ways in which we make it difficult or impossible for them to be that hope.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.
Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,
says the Lord:
they shall come back from the land of the enemy;
there is hope for your future,
says the Lord:
your children shall come back to their own country.
So let us remember parents whose children have been lost to them, populations whose future is being erased. And let us think of the ways in which that future can yet be restored.
In the story of Samuel, we read this:
Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli.
So we remember children who carry responsibility beyond their years, trying to wear shoes that are far too big for them, and who often feel that they must protect adults from the truth of their world, from their vision of what might be to come.
‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’
So let us rejoice in the openness of heart and mind of a child who, knowing a good thing when they see one, will smile their way into the kingdom of God – and carry others with them on the wave of their laughter.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
But let us not too easily put childish ways aside, if thereby we deprive ourselves of spontaneity, or creativity, or unfeigned friendship, or unalloyed joy. For Jesus suggested that the wisdom of children might hold for all of us the key to the kingdom.