“Welcome, Welcome, Welcome, Welcome”
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me,
and whoever welcomes me,, welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Mark 37:9
There is a verb that he says not once but four times in one sentence. That strikes me as important. Older translations say translate the word as Receive and newer translations us the word Welcome. And if the disciples can’t hear him, he also uses a visual aid. He says this passage as he holds a child in his arms and says this what it means to be the greatest. This is what it means to welcome me. This is what it means to welcome God. Hold a child.
Now childhood was not the enamored, treasured, valued season of life as we see it today. There was no such thing as child development, or professional child care workers, child advocacy, or child protection laws. The very concept of childhood as a separate time in someone’s when they were being nurtured or care for was nonexistent during Jesus’ day. Children had no value. 50% of all children died before reaching adulthood.
Children were a liability… Not able to work, contribute, produce or provide. They were of less value than slaves. So when Jesus takes a little child, who is the least significant of all, and says holding this insignificant being is what success looks like – this is not what the corner office and company car the disciples were hoping for. It’s insulting really. It’s radical. It’s hard to get your head around. They hadn’t even noticed the child in the room. Now they are to welcome him or her, not once, but four times.
Because here’s where it gets really radical – Jesus is teaching that welcoming this nobody was the same as welcoming not only Jesus himself, but God.
Jesus’ radical teaching in this text has broad implications for aspects of our life as Christians and as a Christian church. For example, this suggests that one of the most important ministries we do is to welcome people at the door of our church. Being welcoming is the essence of being the church. Because as Barbara Brown Taylor wrote, “encountering another human being is as close to God as we may ever get. ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all,’ Jesus told them. Then he showed them what he meant by taking a little child in his arms. They wanted to know who was greatest, so he showed them: twenty-six inches tall, limited vocabulary, unemployed, zero net worth, nobody. God’s agent. The last, the least of all.” (Bread of Angels, p. 134) In other words, God looks at things differently than we do. God’s ways are NOT our ways.
As I wrote these words, I realized how far we are from achieving Jesus’ vision. – in the church, in our nation and around the world. There are places in our world today where the child mortality rate remains at 50% or even higher. There are places in our churches today where children are abused by those in places of spiritual authority. There are places in our nation today, where children are separated from their parents. There are places in our community today, where children are neglected and hungry. All of this is painfully true. Like the disciples, we may not want to look upon those children, or believe they have value, but that is who Jesus is holding.
One time, Mr. Rogers was asked to write an introduction to a text book for pediatric ophthalmologists, doctors who care for children's eyes. Children get scared at the eye doctor, and so Mr. Rogers was asked to help. Mr. Rogers is a busy man, and he could not write the chapter himself, so he asked a woman who worked with him to write the chapter.
She worked very hard, day after day, until one day she showed what she had written to Mr. Rogers. He read it and crossed it all out. He wrote one sentence for the doctors who would be reading how to care for children's eyes. "Remember, you were a child once, too." (Tom Junod, "Can You Say...'Hero?'" in Esquire. November 1998, p. 134.)
Remember, you were a child once, too. And by remembering that, remember that Jesus himself came into the world as a child.
Remember the children that we are called to protect and nurture,
Remember, too, that you were a child once, and that by God's grace you will be again. Jesus said, 7“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Little ones to him belong, they are weak, but he is strong. Amen._