How appropriate that we're starting up our children's formation again (in a modified format), and this Sunday's gospel reading is from Mark 9.
In this story, Jesus is sitting with his twelve disciples.
Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Children in the ancient world were particularly vulnerable. Some scholars think that only about 50% of children in ancient Rome lived to see the age of 10.
So, when Jesus places this child at the center of their circle, he is highlighting for them one of the most defenseless people in their society. And he's identifying himself with that same vulnerable person!
It made me think of this painting from the Jesus Mafa project. In the 1970s, Mafa Christians in Cameroon did dramatic recreations of scenes from the New Testament. They sought to envision the most important scenes from Jesus' life in their own cultural context. Photos were taken, and French artists transcribed the photos into paintings.
In this painting, we see Jesus, wrapped in a red robe, surrounded by children. He has several in his lap, and others are gathered around smiling. Clearly he has a magnet-like effect on the children of this village. And they have his undivided attention.
The gospels record Jesus prioritizing children several times in his public ministry. I wonder what he means when he talks about welcoming a child in his name? He seems to have a soft spot for them, in the same way he has special love for sick people, tax collectors, and scorned women.
If welcoming children is equivalent to welcoming Jesus, then our supporting our children's formation program is crucial work. We're still looking for teachers for 2021-2022, and we'll be doing fundraising activities throughout the year that will need your support, as well. I invite you to discern how the Holy Spirit might be nudging you to take action to welcome children in Jesus' name.
For more Jesus Mafa artwork, see the collection online at Vanderbilt University's Jean & Alexander Heard Libraries. And let me know which ones are your favorites!