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A Reflection of the Divine

Jesus welcoming the children… it’s typically been seen as a sweet little vignette. A perfect Norman Rockwell-esque portrait of Jesus surrounded by smiling, happy kids. But when we look at it that way we completely miss the radical nature of this story.

In the time of Jesus children had a very different role than they do today. Basically they were the property of their father, under the care of their mother until they reached an age to work. They were to be seen and not heard. They were to honor and obey their parents. They had no status, no power and were essentially a non-person and socially invisible.    

The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary states, “For Jesus to insist that receiving a child might have some value for male disciples is almost inconceivable.”

In addition to simply being nice to the kids, Jesus had the audacity to suggest that welcoming them was like welcoming him, which was the same as welcoming God. He put these "non-persons" on an equal footing with God. Wow. I’m going to come back to that, because it has very broad implications.

For now, I’d invite you to put yourself in the place of the child for a moment. In the past you’ve been told to leave your father, or the men, alone when they’re with the rabbi. Don’t disturb the teacher. Be quiet. Stay with your mother. This is not a place for children. As a child, you’re used to receiving stern looks if you try to sneak in the room, or a sharp rebuke if you run past it with your friends.

Then Jesus shows up. Who is this new rabbi? He‘s different. He doesn’t give you the stink eye when your ball rolls into their midst. He doesn’t make you and your mother leave. Instead, he smiles fondly at you, sets you up on his knee (which makes you a little worried about what your father will say), and looks at you with love and care. He tousles your hair a little bit and talks to you about how much God loves you. Well, this is a completely different experience! What does it mean?

Through Jesus the children experience a welcoming, accepting, kind, open, loving, warm God. He reflects the God that he, himself, experiences. Before that it seems to me that the children would have experienced God reflected in the eyes of the men and rabbis as a strict, serious, exclusive God who was most impressed with those who kept the laws and followed the rules, and had little care for women or children.

Kent Nerburn, in his book, Ordinary Sacred, tells the story of a young girl by the name of Sarah. He met Sarah when she was 7 and he went to her school a couple times a year to read and talk with the kids. He said she was one of those rare children with an innate sense of gratitude. Over the years their friendship grew. She found some of his inspirational writings in a book of hers that was a collection of inspirational writings for teenagers and one day in the lunchroom she asked him to sign the book.

He signed it and wrote a little note praising her for her good-heartedness and concern for others. Then thanked her for asking him to sign it and said it was a real honor to have someone like her care about his writing.

From that time on she always greeted him when he came to the school, if there was a display of projects, she would show him her project. He said it was one of those relationships where you felt privileged that a child has chosen you as someone to value.

When her 8th grade graduation approached, Sarah was required (as was every student) to give a presentation about what she’d learned and where she hoped to go in life. Kent decided he wanted to be there. It was done at the end of the school day and was attended by her parents and grandparents. She never expected Mr. Nerburn who wrote books to show up for her.

Well, Sarah did just fine and afterwards Kent gifted her with an autographed copy of one of his books, then prepared to leave so she could celebrate with her family. As he walked to the door she caught up to him at the door and said, “Thanks for coming, Mr. Nerburn. And thanks for paying attention to me, even though I’m just a kid.” 

In paying attention to her, affirming her gifts, being kind, grateful, and showing up, he (whether he intended it or not, whether she saw it that way or not) reflected the love of the Divine to her and saw the Divine in her.

Given the role of children today, this isn’t such a stretch for us. We see kids as cute, curious, innocent, spontaneous, non-jaded. Or if they misbehave, we wonder and worry about their homelife, their struggles, we recognize their immaturity. We know it is important for children to feel loved, accepted and special.

So, as I mentioned earlier, let’s broaden our understanding, because today it is unlikely that Jesus would use a child to emphasize his point about welcoming those viewed as lesser-than, or non-persons. To make the same point today Jesus might use a poor person, an LGBTQ person, an immigrant, an ex-con, an elderly person, or someone with a disability. Sadly, these people are often seen today as not important, or they aren't seen at all. When we welcome folks like this, look on them with love and warmth, accept them into the circle, we reflect God to them, and we see God in them. But it isn’t always easy.

We're not always great at welcoming new people, or different people. We don't know how to act, or we're afraid they might want something we can't give.  We sometimes fear rejection, criticism, doing something wrong, or we simply don't want to be inconvenienced or taken our of our comfort zones.

It doesn’t matter who we meet, of what race, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, country, job… to each and every person we are called to be a reflection of God. We are called to welcome them as Jesus did - with acceptance, warmth, kindness and love. This should be reflected in our eyes, in our actions, in our words. And if it’s not, we need to keep working at it and try again, and again, and again, until we become a reflection of the unconditionally loving God Jesus knew.

Love & Light!

Kaye