Tuesday, 12 August 2014

‘Whoever becomes humble like this child
is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’

His father and his elder brother have been killed, yet this little child in Gaza is left clutching his father’s glasses with his soft, innocent hand ... is this what the Kingdom of Heaven is like?

Patrick Comerford

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin,

Tuesday, 12 August 2014,

12.45: The Mid-Day Eucharist

Readings:
Ezekiel 2: 8 to 3: 4; Psalm 119: 65-72; Matthew 18: 1-5, 10, 12-14.

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

In recent weeks, I have been saying that it is neither custom nor practice here in Christ Church Cathedral to have a sermon, homily, or even a brief reflection at this mid-day Eucharist. And so I hope to be very brief and very short.

I think all of us have been disturbed in recent weeks about the terrors that are being rained down on children in the world today.

I say “children” and not “innocent children,” because there is no such being as a guilty child – there are only innocent children.

And the suffering and plight of children is all the more distressing when is caused by the calculations of adults who dismiss this suffering as merely the collateral damage brought about by war.

For Christians, this distress must always be acute, must always demand our compassion, must always call for our response.

It cannot matter to us what label is placed on these children – whether the suffering Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip are Christians or Muslim, whether the targeted children in Iraq are Christian or Muslim, whether the starved and besieged children on the mountainside in Kurdistan are Yazidis, Muslims or Christians.

When the disciples ask Christ in our Gospel reading (Matthew 18: 1-5, 10, 12-14) ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ he calls a child, puts the child among them, and tells them: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

We are not told whether this child is a boy or girl, Jew or Samaritan, Greek or Roman, a street urchin or the child of one the Disciples.

Indeed, in all likelihood, the Disciples never noticed, for at that time a child was of no economic value and a burden on families until the child could earn his or her own way, or become the equivalent of a pension scheme for parents.

But Christ tells us: “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven … it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”

The Kingdom of Heaven is like little things. The Gospel readings for the past few Sundays have been reminding us that the Kingdom of Heaven is like:

● Sowing a seed;

● Giving a nest to the birds of the air;

● Mixing yeast;

● Turning small amounts of flour into generous portions of bread;

● Finding hidden treasure;

● Rushing out in joy;

● Selling all that I have because something I have found is worth more – much, much more, again and again;

● Searching for pearls;

● Finding just one pearl;

● Casting a net into the sea;

● Catching an abundance of fish;

● Drawing that abundance of fish ashore, realising there is too much there for my personal needs, and sharing it;

● Writing about it so that others can enjoy the benefit and rewards of treasures new and old.

And this afternoon we are told that Kingdom is like a little child – imagine a child playing on a beach in Gaza, falsely feeling secure in a school in Gaza, maimed and injured in a mother’s arms at home, dying in a Gaza hospital, the victim of a car bomb in Baghdad, starving and despised on a mountain side in northern Iraq.

In the face of these images I find myself thinking of the prophets, like Ezekiel in our Old Testament reading, who are called to speaking “words of lamentation and mourning and woe” and compelled to “go to the house of Israel and speak [God’s] very words to them.”

But I have hope too, for I hear Christ’s words today: “in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven … it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Collect:

Blessed are you, O Lord,
and blessed are those who observe and keep your law:
Help us to seek you with our whole heart,
to delight in your commandments
and to walk in the glorious liberty
given us by your Son, Jesus Christ.

Post Communion Prayer:

Strengthen for service, Lord,
the hands that holy things have taken;
may the ears which have heard your word
be deaf to clamour and dispute;
may the tongues which have sung your praise be free from deceit;
may the eyes which have seen the tokens of your love
shine with the light of hope;
and may the bodies which have been fed with your body
be refreshed with the fullness of your life;
glory to you for ever.

Canon Patrick Comerford is lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This reflection was shared at the Mid-Day Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on Tuesday 12 August 2014.

Matthew 18: 1-5, 10, 12-14

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ 2 He called a child, whom he put among them, 3 and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

10 ‘Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. 12 What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.

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