Homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee,
but he did not wish anyone to know about it.
He was teaching his disciples and telling them,
“The Son of Man is to be handed over to men
and they will kill him,
and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.”
But they did not understand the saying,
and they were afraid to question him.
They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house,
he began to ask them,
“What were you arguing about on the way?”
But they remained silent.
They had been discussing among themselves on the way
who was the greatest.
Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,
“If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
Taking a child, he placed it in their midst,
and putting his arms around it, he said to them,
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me.”
“Don’t be a baby!”
“You’re a big boy now!”
None of these are words of the Savior in the Gospels. Instead he tells us that becoming like a little child is a necessary prerequisite for entry into the kingdom of heaven.
Indeed, he identifies little children with himself and with his Father. This should give us pause— careful, prayerful, pensive pause. To whom does the kingdom of heaven belong by right? Obviously, God alone. To whom does Our Lord compare the person who is fit to enter and possess that kingdom of heaven? A little child. So there has to be some identity between being a little child and being God.
How strange. How extravagant. But there it is: Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me; and whoever receives me receives not me but the One who sent me.
Not only Christ is identified with the little child, but so is his Father. Heaven must be a very different place from earth. Here adults rule, there the merest children. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit want to be treated as thought they were little children! An amazing and strange thought. Yet in his commentary on this teaching of the Savior, St. Thomas Aquinas even suggests that the child who was placed in their midst was really just Christ indicating himself, as he said, “I am in the midst of you as one who serves.” Or even, goes on St. Thomas, the Holy Spirit, who tells us in Ezekiel, “I will place my spirit in the midst of them.”
It is clear that at the heart, at the center of the kingdom of heaven, is a child! And not just as an image, but rather as a reality. Being a child is just a pale reflection of the childlikeness of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Perhaps we will understand the truth of this mysterious identification by considering the aspects of childlikeness that reveal something divine and worthy of God himself. First of all, Aquinas tells us, wee children are not pretentious; they do not put on airs; they are simply themselves. Secondly, they are pure, not dominated by unchaste desires, and so true friends, not just manipulators. Thirdly, they do not hold grudges, forgetting wrongs quickly. They are happy to forget the morning’s scuffles in order to play again in the afternoon.
All of this amounts to a single virtue: humility, which the Savior impresses on his followers continually in his words. This account we hear today is found in three of the Gospels. It is thus of the greatest importance And then the Savior turns from words to example and demonstrates his childlike humility in his passion and death, and most amazingly in his ready pardoning and kind blessing of those who had only days before abandoned and denied him.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux, whom Pope Pius XI called the “greatest saint of modern times” and whom St. John Paul II declared a Doctor of the Church, taught a way of spiritual childhood. This is not just some kind of devotional attitude; it is about becoming like the Triune God, in whose image we are made and who dwells in us by grace.
How should you become a saint? Just be yourself, without putting on airs; be pure and chaste; forgive offenses. Then you will be like God, like a little child and fit for the kingdom of heaven.
How hard is that? Kids’ stuff!