AUGUST 9, 2005- HOMILY: DEUTERONOMY 31:1-6; MATTHEW 18: 1-5, 10, 12-14
WHO IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD?This question was put to Jesus by his closest disciples, the twelve he had chosen to represent him on his mission, and so who were called ‘apostoloi’, that is, ‘the men sent’. These chosen ones were not taken from the learned or privileged classes; they were workers", rather blunt and direct in manner, anything but subtle or sly. Some were ambitious and pushy, macho types; Jesus seems to have had a particular appreciation for them, seeing their simplicity and artlessness as capable of great devotion; diamonds in the rough, as we say in plain English. His inner circle was made up of such types: Peter first of all, always ready to speak out and accepted as spokesman by the others; the sons of Zebedee, James and John, who wanted to have special places of honor. These he chose to witness his Transfiguration on the mountain. Today we find him polishing them, rubbing off some of the dross that dimmed the light within.
Obviously, they had been arguing among themselves concerning influence, honors and the power that men find so attractive. Some in the group were pushing to gain ascendency, others felt resentment at being jostled aside. So they take the matter to the Master for him to settle: what qualifies a man to be number one, chief among the group? This is the gist of their query, "WHO IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD?"
They were taken aback by the response they received. First of all they saw how seriously the Lord took the issue their question raised for he did not answer immediately but had a child come to him first. Mark adds that he then embraced the child before he gave his reply, to reinforce the message he wished to impart by displaying his spontaneous affection for this youngster who trusted him enough to come when called to his side.
Trusting faith by which a person gives his very self to another is clearly the characteristic that Jesus singles out in the child and sets forth as a model for those who would belong to him. Such an act of trust can only be based on a presumption that the child is loved by the trusted one. The trust displayed is accompanied by a self-giving love that makes the child vulnerable but gains for her the security needed to live fully, spontaneously. There can truly human life thrive and develop only where trust rules and meets with fidelity.
Our Lord insists that this kind of trust alone makes a person capable of entering into the Father’s loving presence and living with Him in the kingdom. As a basis for trust we must believe that the Father cares for us; more, that He knows all about us, our most intimate desires, our most personal failings and, knowing us fully, gives us freely His love. To believe this in all trust requires that we, in turn, believe and know by experience that we are lovable in the eyes of the surpassingly good, powerful and dignified person who is God. This is the very lesson Jesus teaches us today in the Gospel and in this Eucharist, by his word and by the example of his death and resurrection in which we share at this altar. We must come to know our self as a child of God, created in his image, destined to be formed in his likeness. The task set before us by our Savior is to trust that by belief in him we share his life and so are worthy of the love of his Father and our Father. And that is the meaning of today’s Gospel and this Eucharist.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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