Homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sept. 20, 2009
Mark 9: 30-37
Provincial House, New Rochelle
“Whoever receives one child such as this…” (Mark 9: 37).
This passage has a particular appeal to Salesians because we see Jesus welcoming a child and encouraging his disciples to welcome children. Don Bosco liked to cite another passage where Jesus prevents the apostles from chasing away little children and in fact embraces them and blesses them (Mark 10:13-16).
Here at least the focus is not on children per se. Rather, it’s on the least important in society. In Jesus’ time, children qualified as among the least important. For starters, high infant mortality rates meant there was much less emotional investment in small children than we’re used to. Second, society’s emphasis on the maturity and wisdom of elders placed a premium on being older rather than younger—all very different from our society, which goes ga-ga over babies (once they’re born), goes to great lengths to maintain youthfulness (or at least the appearance of it), and puts elders aside.
In Jesus’ Palestine, a child can’t contribute to the family by working; until he or she grows, it’s just another mouth to feed, and whatever attention is requires is a distraction from the serious business of earning a living, cooking, baking, drawing water, washing. At best, a child is an investment in the future—a future worker on the land, in the shop, or in the household.
It is such an insignificant person whom Jesus presents to his disciples as someone to be received and welcomed in his name. He’s giving a value to the child by identifying himself with the child—a precious Salesian theme—but in the context of the disciples’ arguments over their own importance, he’s emphasizing what it means to serve, to attend to the least significant people, to count them as precious in God’s eyes, to look to their needs. Whoever receives a refugee, an immigrant, a leper, someone with AIDS, the poor, the homeless, the uneducated, someone who counts for nothing in society, is receiving Christ.
Most of us received a copy of Frank Moloney's commentary on Mark's Gospel on our retreat in 2003. His remarks on this passage highlight the word receive, being receptive.The disciples’ idea of leadership, of greatness, is to exercise power and influence. Jesus says it’s being innocent and powerless like a child; it’s being wide-eyed and open to the world around you, ready to take it all in as it is, being eager for new experiences.
To receive Jesus, and the One who sent him, means we have to look at the world in a fresh way—like the vintner who uses new wineskins rather than old (Mark 2:22). Jesus demands a fresh approach to our understanding of God, of our relationship with God, of our relationships with one another. In his own time, Jesus was calling Israel to aggiornamento, and in our time he calls us to keep looking at the world like children to figure out what it means, how God’s speaking to us today, how do we receive God today—thru society, culture, events, science, the Scriptures, everything and everyone. What is God speaking to us thru such contemporary issues as the women’s movement, the environmental movement, globalization, any number of movements, issues, happenings that we’re all familiar with? What is God telling us thru movements in the Church, like the dynamic lay movements Focolare, Communion and Liberation, St. Egidio, and others; thru the call to ressourcement (the return to the sources of the Scriptures, the Fathers, the ancient liturgy, and so on)?
Tuning in to God—it’s a radio term, isn’t it? It means seeking him and having our reception set ready to listen to him with all the openness, innocence, and wonder of a child seeing, hearing, smelling, touching the world. “Disciples,” says Frank Moloney, “are called to be receptive to one another, and also to the design of God … [and] … to all that Jesus asks of them….”
 Francis J. Moloney, SDB, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2002), pp. 188-189.
 Ibid., p. 189.