The adults were having a very childish argument. They were fighting among themselves about who was the greatest. Jesus responded to their childish argument by setting a child in the midst of them. Hoping his disciples would forever refrain from dangerous arguments over who is the greatest, Jesus places a little child in the center and says that to welcome a child is to welcome him (Mark 9:30-37). Mere adulthood does not make one great. True greatness is to be found in humble service, not through lofty ambition. True greatness emerges by valuing the precious qualities of a child.
Consider the exquisite innocence of a child’s sparkling eyes. The undiluted straightforwardness of a child’s clarity about what he or she wants. A warmth that is not afraid to express affection. A sense of wonder that boldly asks endless questions about why something is or is not or why something can or cannot be. Children do not identify themselves by what they do. They identify themselves in terms of who they are related to. This is MY mommy that is MY daddy. And for a while, there is a fierce devotion to those parents through whom a child first learns about the world.
Children can be some of our best teachers. Perhaps there is a new innocence that can shine from our weary eyes. We might direct our why questions to the causes of poverty and hunger in the world leading to an unmistakable clarity about our intentions to do something about them. Icy or hostile interactions with family members can give way to a new warmth which seeks to heal where there is hurt. Being consumed by our own work and activity can yield to noticing that a child who drowns while his mommy and daddy are trying to save him from a lifetime of violence is really our child too.
Arguments about who is the greatest and efforts to prove it are at the root of political and social sin. Children are so often its victims through civil unrest, labor exploitation, human trafficking or separation from their parents. Remember the little child that Jesus stood in the midst of the people. That child’s brothers and sisters continue to be in our midst every day.