Matthew 18.1-5, 10, 12-14
The disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
‘Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.’
Human beings are complicated. We are complicated physiologically, and we are complicated psychologically. The very essence of our nature seems to be rooted in our need to turn that which is simple into something challenging, convoluted and, well, complicated! We take straightforward situations and apply presumed motivations and personal preferences to them. We turn the straightforward into the grounds for conflict and alienation. In today’s reading we hear Jesus addressing this very human way of carrying on.
This reading and the one we will be reflecting on in a few days’ time speaks of God’s call for us to be ‘childlike’ in matters of faith and in the way we live out our daily lives. Jesus spells it out for us: we need to be childlike in our humility. Rather than setting ourselves up as being ‘better’ or ‘greater’ than others, we are called to offer ourselves freely and openly in the service of others, and we are called to accept those others in a spirit of loving humility. We are called to welcome everyone into our lives as though we are welcoming Jesus himself.
It is a sad fact that very few of us are able to meet the challenge of ‘changing’ and ‘becoming like children’. We are hard-wired with the need to be bigger, better and stronger than everyone else. We seem to be doomed to eternal exclusion from the kingdom of heaven, the place many feel destined to be their rightful home when their mortal lives are over.
As we struggle with this doom-laden prophecy, Jesus then offers us hope. Jesus offers us the parable of the lost sheep, a parable which reassures us that all is not lost provided we repent and allow ourselves to be found as we wander, lost, in the wilderness of our daily lives.
We all make mistakes. Every day we have thoughts, say words and carry out deeds which alienate us from Christ’s teaching and, therefore, from God. But, the Christian message is one of hope, and that hope lies in God’s willingness to forgive those who are prepared to set aside their worldly ‘sophistication’ and return to him in simple humility. The parable of the lost sheep assures us that God is always on the look out for those who want to be rescued from the isolation and desolation of a God-less life.
Let us praise and thank God for his infinite capacity to forgive and to welcome. Let us also pray that we might find the strength to accept his forgiveness and his welcome as we turn away from our self-serving lives, lives that are full of unnecessary complications.