September 27 2015 Reflection

18th Sunday after Pentecost
‘WELCOMING THE LITTLE ONES

BIBLE READING
Mark 9:30-37

REFLECTION

In today’s modern and commercialised world, a child is often seen more as a liability than a bundle of joy. There is nothing new about this. The ancient world had quite a similar view about children. Don’t get me wrong. For the Jewish and Roman families, living in the first century world, children still represented the future. Children would carry on their family’s name, care for their elderly parents, and, of course, reproduce.[1]

But while they were still young, they were liabilities. Living in an ancient world with limited medical knowledge and treatment, children were likely to get ill and die. Even though children could participate in the household production (children had to work and didn’t go to school in ancient time), they were not fully productive yet. They still represented another mouth to feed. In economic sense, adult slaves were worth more than children.[2] In other words, in ancient world, children were also liabilities.

But Jesus, somehow, asked his disciples to welcome the little children. But why would someone welcome those who were liabilities; those who, instead of bringing an economic advantage, became an economic burden?

But this was exactly his point. The children represented the people in Jesus’ society: the widows, the orphans, the lepers, the lame, etc., who were liabilities to those who cared for them. Jesus reminded the disciples that the greatest of all were those who dared to welcome these people.

Friends, I can’t help but relate our reading to the refugee crisis today in Europe where thousands of refugees are crossing borders, searching for a better life. The issue is controversial. It creates division amongst the population in Europe.

At the heart of the division is this question: what kind of Europe do they want to become? Some argue for a mono-cultural Europe. For them, unity is the key word and the way to achieve this unity is through uniformity and conformity. That means excluding a great number of people, like the refugees, whose identity simply does not conform to the identity of the majority.

Others argue for a compassionate Europe. A society that they want to build is a society that is based on the value of compassion. That means helping and welcoming the vulnerable who ask for their protection, even though these people would be liabilities to those who welcome them.

That is the reason why European nations, like Germany and Austria, decide to welcome the refugees into their countries. In Germany, people welcome refugees in train stations by clapping and chanting, "Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here!" Germany, under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel, has pledged $6.6 billion to help 800.000 refugees, 1% of its population. Recently in Vienna, Austria, around 140 volunteers' cars and vans, filled with food and water, left the city to collect and help refugees who arrived on their border. Even in Hungary, people who are upset with the way their government has harshly treated the refugees, donated clothes in train stations.[3] These people want a Europe that is built not on fear or hatred, but on solidarity with the weak and the vulnerable amongst them. "We had to give a strong signal of humanity to show that Europe's values are valid also in difficult times,” says Germany’s Secretary General. [4]

Friends, refugees, and other vulnerable people in our society today, are indeed Jesus’ ‘little children’ of our time. We are to help them not to gain advantage of some sort, but because it is the right thing to do and even though they are liabilities to us now.

This is why, I believe, we baptise a little child, like Alexander, today. A little child, like Alex, can teach us how to be more like Jesus. A child like Alex is a liability (if you don’t trust me, ask Stacey and Jason who had to accompany Alex while he was treated in Princess Margaret Hospital recently). But we love him anyway. Indeed, through loving and welcoming a little child, like Alex, we learn how to love and welcome the weak and the vulnerable in our midst. And when we do that, Jesus says that we are indeed the greatest of all.

Amen.

[1] Amy Allen, Welcoming the Child: The Politics of Mark 9:30-37, September 17 2012
(http://www.politicaltheology.com/blog/politics-mark-930-37-welcoming-child/)

[2] Amy Allen, Welcoming the Child: The Politics of Mark 9:30-37, September 17 2012
(http://www.politicaltheology.com/blog/politics-mark-930-37-welcoming-child/)

[3] F. Brinley Bruton, Germany to Spend $6.6 Billion on 800,000 Refugees and Migrants, September 7 2015, 10:59 AM ET (http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/europes-border-crisis/billions-migrants-germany-spend-6-6b-800-000-newcomers-n422811)

[4] F. Brinley Bruton, Germany to Spend $6.6 Billion on 800,000 Refugees and Migrants, September 7 2015, 10:59 AM ET (http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/europes-border-crisis/billions-migrants-germany-spend-6-6b-800-000-newcomers-n422811)