Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus presents a child as the model for his disciples. Jesus has just laid out for his disciples what is going to happen to him in Jerusalem, how he will be rejected, tortured, and killed. Oblivious to this, the disciples are discussing who among them is the most important. For Jesus, the path to greatness lies on the road to Calvary, to self-forgetting love; for the disciples—and for most people of most ages—it lies along the road to ego inflation.
What is the antidote? A child is proposed as a kind of living icon to these ambitious disciples. We notice first how Jesus physically identifies with the child by placing him by his side. It is as though he is saying that he himself is like a child. How so? Children don’t know how to dissemble, how to be one way and act another. They are what they are; they act in accordance with their deepest nature.
Why was this story of Jesus’ identification with children preserved by all of the synoptic Gospels? Somehow it gets close to the heart of Jesus’ life and message.