Unless You Become Like Little Children…
God promises that he will accompany his people when they enter the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua.
For Jesus, a child counts, as God loves what is little. And those ones follow him “sine argumentum”. They are the greatest in the kingdom of God, on account of their simple wisdom, their lack of pretension, their spontaneity and their humility. Sinners too are among the little ones, in another sense: low before God – what have they given him? Yet none of them should be lost. In us too, the child should survive in the good sense. Are we not placing obstacles in the way of the kingdom on account of our sophistication and pretenses?
1 Reading: Deuteronomy 31:1-8
When Moses had finished speaking to all Israel, he said to them, “I am now one hundred and twenty years old and am no longer able to move about freely; besides, the LORD has told me that I shall not cross this Jordan. It is the LORD, your God, who will cross before you; he will destroy these nations before you, that you may supplant them. It is Joshua who will cross before you, as the LORD promised. The LORD will deal with them just as he dealt with Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites whom he destroyed, and with their country. When, therefore, the LORD delivers them up to you, you must deal with them exactly as I have ordered you. Be brave and steadfast; have no fear or dread of them, for it is the LORD, your God, who marches with you; he will never fail you or forsake you.” Then Moses summoned Joshua and in the presence of all Israel said to him, “Be brave and steadfast, for you must bring this people into the land which the LORD swore to their fathers he would give them; you must put them in possession of their heritage.It is the LORD who marches before you; he will be with you and will never fail you or forsake you. So do not fear or be dismayed.”
Responsorial Psalm: Deuteronomy 32:3-4ab, 7, 8, 9 and 12
R. (9a) The portion of the Lord is his people.
For I will sing the LORD’s renown.
Oh, proclaim the greatness of our God!
The Rock–how faultless are his deeds,
how right all his ways! R.
Think back on the days of old,
reflect on the years of age upon age.
Ask your father and he will inform you,
ask your elders and they will tell you. R.
When the Most High assigned the nations their heritage,
when he parceled out the descendants of Adam,
He set up the boundaries of the peoples
after the number of the sons of Israel. R.
While the LORD’s own portion was Jacob,
his hereditary share was Israel.
The LORD alone was their leader,
no strange god was with him. R.
Alleluia: Matthew 11:29ab
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel: Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14
The disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father. What is your opinion? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray? And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray. In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.”
An interesting contrast appears in today’s two readings. Moses turns aside from his position of leadership to entrust Joshua with the task of bringing the Israelites into the land that had been promised them. Joshua had many of the traits of Moses: leadership skills and strong religious faith as well as military ability. He is clearly the Lord’s choice, and Moses has no hesitancy in entrusting the leadership position to him.
Yet in the reign of Jesus, where does greatness lie? It’ll shock you. Not in physical structure, capability nor in raw strength or military know-how. But, in childlike humility. In the spirit of total dependence on God and the realization that he alone is great. There is nothing said about learning or the ability to lead, or even about profound spiritual insight. To receive the lowly one is to receive Christ. To care as much about the one follower who strays as the ninety-nine who do not. To recover the weak brings incomparable joy.
We are all inclined to claim our heroes in life, including in the Christian life. But the Gospels give us pause. It is not the great achievers who are applauded, nor those who are entrusted with positions of authority. It is the humble person for whom God has an unquestionable priority. The one for whom the Eucharist is a daily must, the one who shows great concern for a needy neighbour. We needed a Joshua to reach the land of promise. But we need another type for the reign of God to flourish, not momentarily, but for eternity. Like Jesus, let us be humble servants….
Jesus tells us to change and to become like little children. This is not an invitation to become childish, but to learn from children to become spontaneous and trusting toward God and one another, admiring and grateful and expecting all that is good, with the blessing of almighty God, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!