A good friend became a grandmother for the first time this weekend. Ever since, she and other members of the family have been posting pictures and making comments on Facebook that reveal that this newborn little girl is loved and valued. As we listen to the Gospel today, the meaning behind Jesus’ words might be clouded by the fact that babies and children were not so highly valued in the culture and society in which Jesus lived and preached.
The facts reveal that over 50% of the children born in the Middle East some 2,000 years ago did not live to see puberty. Childhood diseases and poor nutrition and sanitation claimed the lives of more than half. For this reason, parents, knowing that a child might not live, did not invest much time or love in their relationships with their children until they reached puberty. By that time, they were fairly sure that their children would live to adulthood. So children were considered least of all in this society. Even slaves were considered more valuable and were cared for better than children.
Now read the words of Jesus with that knowledge planted in your head: I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. (Matthew 11:25b)
There are other occasions when Jesus uses children to make a point. 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. (Matthew 18:3-5)
Ever since I learned about the place of children in Middle Eastern Society at the time of Jesus, my ears perk up when I hear Jesus use them as examples. He is making a rather powerful point. If we wish to be disciples, we have to consider ourselves as the unimportant, the least regarded, the most humble.
Children are indeed a blessing. The birth of a child in our society is an “event.” The regard in which we hold them is not the same as it used to be in a bygone era. That fact may cloud our understanding of Scripture passages that invoke children as examples. It is important that we remember that the Gospels all point to an important point: if you wish to be great, make yourself small; if you wish to be first, make yourself last.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator