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The Kingdom Is For The Childlike
In the Old Testament, too, we find enthusiastic, dedicated leaders, giving the best of themselves to God and country. Nehemiah has a good, secure function at the court of Artaxerxes, as butler – often a confidential job. Hearing alarming reports about the disorganized Jews in Palestine after the exile, he does not want to keep his administrative competency to himself or to serve at a pagan court. He asks the king for permission to give the best of himself to his people and country. He goes to Jerusalem, rebuilds the walls of Jerusalem and the Jewish community, works for social justice, and gets the city and country of God’s people going again.
Jesus gave himself totally to his mission. He asks the same radical commitment to the kingdom of God of justice and love not only of his apostles but also of us, of all who “follow” him. A “radical” commitment is asked, that is, going to the roots in the depths of our being; it must be consistent, it is a commitment that does not look back but that has its eyes on both the present and the future. Quality service not quality office.
1 Reading: Nehemiah 2:1-8
In the month Nisan of the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when the wine was in my charge, I took some and offered it to the king. As I had never before been sad in his presence, the king asked me, “Why do you look sad? If you are not sick, you must be sad at heart.” Though I was seized with great fear, I answered the king: “May the king live forever! How could I not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been eaten out by fire?” The king asked me, “What is it, then, that you wish?” I prayed to the God of heaven and then answered the king: “If it please the king, and if your servant is deserving of your favour, send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, to rebuild it.” Then the king, and the queen seated beside him, asked me how long my journey would take and when I would return. I set a date that was acceptable to him, and the king agreed that I might go. I asked the king further: “If it please the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of West-of-Euphrates, that they may afford me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah; also a letter for Asaph, the keeper of the royal park, that he may give me wood for timbering the gates of the temple-citadel and for the city wall and the house that I shall occupy.” The king granted my requests, for the favouring hand of my God was upon me.
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
R. (6ab) Let my tongue be silenced if I ever forget you!
By the streams of Babylon
we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the aspens of that land
we hung up our harps. R.
Though there our captors asked of us
the lyrics of our songs,
And our despoilers urged us to be joyous:
“Sing for us the songs of Zion!” R.
How could we sing a song of the LORD
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand be forgotten! R.
May my tongue cleave to my palate
if I remember you not,
If I place not Jerusalem
ahead of my joy. R.
Alleluia: Psalm 103:21
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Bless the LORD, all you angels,
you ministers, who do his will.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel: Matthew 18:1-5, 10
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 humbles himself 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.”
There is an urgency about the following of Christ that gives it exceptional priority. That is the point of today’s Gospel. One need not press the seeming harshness of the reply to the legitimate requests. When it comes to the kingdom of God and its proclamation, there are no fringe benefits; it is a life of hardship. It will ultimately take precedence over family concerns in its demands. Discipleship, when one is serious about it, is clearly uncompromising and demanding.
In medieval times, church life often meant privilege and comfort. Francis of Assisi was not interested in luxury. He set about to take the Gospels with the utmost seriousness in a literal following of Jesus. For him it proved to be a life of joy, but it certainly was not one of ease. In modem times, we want too much to have it our way. We are willing to comply, but we don’t want to feel the pinch. But in some way we have to go beyond the merely acceptable.
Nehemiah worked in the service of a very amenable king. Today politics is frequently seen as a less than honourable profession. To maintain political office, it is said, moral compromises have to be made. Perhaps. Some people will say it always happens. Others would say, “Sometimes, yes; sometimes, no.” Artaxerxes showed a genuine interest in the welfare of Nehemiah, as did Cyrus in the well-being of the Jewish people and the demands of their God. The less than perfect are found in every profession, but that does not invalidate the profession as such. Postexilic Israel met friends and sympathizers in high places, and their praises are sung in the scriptures.
We are not only citizens of heaven but also citizens of our own country. We love it. May you also serve it as best as you can, with the blessing of almighty God, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!