“Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me” (Mt 18:4-5).
Children during the time of Jesus were seen if at all, to have little worth. They were vulnerable, had little if any, status in society. They were under the radar, nothings, nobodies, and thus completely dependent on their parents for survival. Jesus invites a child to come to him, identifying himself with the child, as a response to the disciples’ question as to who would be considered the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
Jesus taught his disciples and he teaches us today that we need to be completely dependent on God our Father, as a small child is totally dependent on his or her parents. What leads us to greatness in the Kingdom of heaven is our turning away from the temptation to curve in within ourselves, resisting the urge to feed our ego, and as St Thomas Aquinas taught, resisting the cultural lures and substitutes for God: power, pleasure, honor, and wealth. We are to reject the image that we are supermen and women that need no one as we strive for complete autonomy and self-sufficiency. We are to place our complete dependency and trust in God and rely on him for everything.
Participating in the reign of God is not one of lordship over another, but instead of assuming the humility to accompany and walk along with each other along our journey in this life. We see this in the reality of Jesus, who as the Son of God entered into our human condition. While remaining fully divine, he became human when through the power of the Holy Spirit was conceived in the womb of Mary, developed through his period of gestation, and was born into our world. As an infant and child, he was completely dependent on Mary and Joseph and God his Father.
As Jesus continued to grow as a young child, he experienced the fullness of the human condition. He laughed, he cried, he got sick, he was tempted, he felt pain, he experienced heartache and joy. Throughout his life, and especially during his public ministry, he met people where they were and as they were. He understood their suffering and weakness from his own experience of being human and so accompanied them and loved them by willing their good and pointing the way for them to rely wholeheartedly on his Father.
Jesus invites us to relate to God as Father, as Abba, in the best sense of that intimacy of dependence. As St Therese of Lisieux wrote, “Jesus has chosen to show me the only way which leads to the Divine Furnace of love; it is the way of childlike self-surrender, the way of a child who sleeps, afraid of nothing, in its father’s arms.” We need to acknowledge our dependence on God and others and that we are not self-sufficient. We need to recognize not only our interconnectedness but our interdependence so to be humble enough to offer and ask for help when needed.
Our guardian angels, whose memorial we celebrate today, are at the ready awaiting our call. When we realize that we are not alone, and experience some supernatural support, we may be more willing to be aware of, be present, and accompany others in their need. We can be a shoulder to lean on, provide an ear to hear, we can offer a smile, a hug, a voice that speaks for the voiceless, a soul open to praying with others, and the courage to stand up for the dignity of others.
St Mother Teresa embodied the discipleship Jesus calls us to when she picked up that first dying man in the street. She did not ask his religion, was not concerned if he was of a different race or nationality, was not afraid to risk illness or injury by attending to him. She knelt down and was present to him in his time of dire need. May we follow Jesus and St Mother Teresa by placing our dependency in God’s hands and accompany others in doing little things with great love. When we do so, we say to another, you exist, you matter to me.