Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it … (Mark 9:36)
Imagine the uproar and the shock when Jesus officially answers the disciples’ question about power and authority by telling them: The prize for the “greatest among you” goes to … a child!
A child? The least noticeable, the least important now becomes the standard for who is the greatest among us? Jesus upsets the apple cart of polite Jewish society. He turns everything upside down and inside out. And he’s still doing it to this day.
But, as if this isn’t enough, Jesus goes a step further. To make sure no one misses the point, he uses an unmistakable audiovisual: He takes a child and, “putting his arms around it.” This dramatizes the heartfelt meaning of his message. Each Sunday when babies start to play with the echoes their voices in our old church, they remind me of this command of the Lord. Their voices are never a distraction. They are a song.
True power and true authority anchors itself to service of “the least;” says today’s Gospel; service to the most vulnerable, service to the most invisible, service to the weakest. If one wants to be truly great, and truly powerful, and truly number one in the Father’s kingdom, Jesus is telling us today, then use this child as your model. Serve. Don’t “lord it over.” Serve. Don’t abuse or exploit or take advantage. Attend to the little ones.
Fr. Junipero Serra’s canonization this Wednesday honors a just man and a “great” Franciscan missionary who lived in a time of conflicting loyalties and steered his way through them with holiness. Standing between the “powers that be,” in mid 18th century Spain and Mexico, he brought the Christian proclamation to Alta California. The brothers of St. Francis were engaged in three different waves bringing Catholicism to what would become the western part of the United States. His life demonstrated heroic service and attending to the least. Without ignoring the some of terrible consequences of the Spanish conquest to the indigenous cultures, he brought a civility and great love. The pope will add his name to the Litany of the Saints in Washington D.C. on Wednesday. Join us in the events honoring Fr. Serra’s legacy this week at the Basilica. His modo, “Siempre adalante; nunca atras”- always forward never going back, testified to a passion for the Gospel. That is what we canonize and celebrate. We hope that our lives will leave behind them such zeal for the Reign of God.
Have a blessed week,
Gratitude to Celebration’s Ted Wolgamot for some of the above reflections.