25 Ordinary B September 23, 2012 – Who Do We Say We Are?
In this week’s gospel, the disciples were thinking only of themselves and who among them was the greatest. Jesus says to them — look, if you really want to friend me you have to accept this little child. When you accept the child you embrace not only me but also the Holy One who sent me. Jesus really confused them.
For us to understand this passage we have to forget for a moment how we idealize childhood. Modern social science suggests that our cultural definition of children can affect our self image as adults.  No doubt parents treasured their children during the time of Jesus. However, in the public eye, “children had no social status or value whatsoever; until adulthood they were nobodies.” 
The disciples had to make a difficult decision. They were being asked to accept little children as their equals. If they were to welcome children they would be breaking with the customs of their time. Yet, if they wanted to follow Jesus they had to put aside their own self promotion. Last week Betsy Rowe-Manning preached about who Jesus is in our lives. This week the question is turned on us. Who do we say we are?
Time was running out for Jesus and he sensed his death was imminent. He was even feeling betrayed. It seemed as if the disciples still did not comprehend what Jesus was doing nor did they understand their role in carrying out his mission. By way of example, Jesus invited them to a new way of relating to people regardless of age, ethnicity, gender or social class.
The letter from James is an exhortation to be considerate of one another. Last week a man who once served time in prison spoke to a group of us here in church. He talked about being held in a spiritual and psychological jail before being locked up for his crimes. Daryl said the hardest thing to learn is to “fight for the rights of others and not to be selfish.”
There are many, many children in our country who are not cared for, whose rights to a decent life have been taken away from them. Statistics on child trafficking, domestic violence, pedophilia and poverty portray an unromantic but realistic picture of childhood in America. An analysis of the 2010 census statistics reveals that one-in-five children in the United States lives in poverty. Why? Because more and more families are forced to live below the poverty line. While most parents try their best to provide for their children sometimes the opportunities for some of them to succeed are just not there. How will God uphold their lives? (Today’s Psalm 54) God needs our help.
Take for example Providence House operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph in New York City. “Their program has nurtured more than 12,000 women parolees and their children back from the brink.”  Another good reason to stand with the Sisters!
Thankfully, our food pantry and other city-wide programs help to ease the pain. Here at St. Vincent’s there are also opportunities for our teens and youths to connect the word of God with everyday life. Today we are recognizing the young men and women who realize there is a holy spirit in their lives. Our faith formation programs and Sunday Youth Days are designed to engage students of all ages in a spiritual learning experience. Today is the first Youth Day and the topic is “justice and morality.” Our children’s liturgy of the word offers younger boys and girls a chance to hear God’s word at their own age level.
Before his execution on the cross Jesus challenged his disciples to get a better grip on who they were by asking them to embrace children. He was saying the greatest among us are those who serve others. Who do we say we are?
1 Cornelissen, Sharon. “The Representations of Childhood and the Self-Image of Adults in Modernity: The Image of the Child as ‘Other’ or Part of the Narrative of Life.” in Social Cosmos – URN:NBN:NL:UI:10-1-100189.
2 See Donahue & Harrington, Mark, 285 in Byrne, Brendan. A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2008) 152
3 “Speaking the Truth to the Vatican” in The New York Times, 9/18/12, page A12