As a Child

Proper 21 (26)  |  Mark 10:2-16

The Gospel of Mark puts strange things together. In the story of Jairus trying to get help for his daughter, we read about a sick woman in the street. There are blind men in odd places. Jesus sends his disciples out to preach, only to have their adventures paired with the death of John the Baptist, prophet and preacher in his own right.

In this passage, Mark pairs a conversation about divorce with a story of children who come to Jesus — the disciples are brusque with the kids, and Jesus is in turn brusque with his disciples.

Why put these two ideas together — divorce and children? What links them?

Maybe it has to do with the natural state of human beings. People are made to match — not a match of birth, or of necessity, but of choice. “…a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife…”

We choose one another. There is a natural progression to it. None of us lives forever, not in this state of being at any rate, and we hope our children will run beyond us, will choose new friends, new family, people to love and to love them when we are gone.

And there it is — a link, from the admonition against being hard-hearted and rejecting one another to the way Jesus embraces the children who choose to come to him.

The children have no thought of forever. No idea that they must commit to anything more than the moment. No notion that they might loose interest, might turn away, might find someone else more attractive. This moment is eternity for them, and in this present infinite moment, their choices are as eternal as they are pure.

Children come to us, come to God, with no notion of pretending to be someone they aren’t. Or, if they do pretend, it is an honest pretense — we know the child is not really a pirate or a dinosaur.

How many relationships would have lasted if only we had come as the people we are instead of the people we thought we needed to be, the people we pretended to be. We don’t necessarily mean to deceive. We simply do not think that anyone would accept us, cherish us, choose us, for being the person we are. Surely they want someone better, we think. More interesting. More rich. More friendly, energetic, charming. Not us—they couldn’t love us. Not the real us.

And yet that is the charm of children. They are as they are, and we love them for it. And God loves them for it. 

Maybe if we can accept that God can love us, the same as loving a child, then we can choose to love ourselves. Given that love, maybe we can start to think that someone else can love us for who we are, not for who we pretend to be.

If we can find our real selves, we can begin to love one another. Just as we are. Oh, let’s improve if we can. Let’s better ourselves. Let’s make something of ourselves. But let’s stop trying to fool other people into liking us.

On Ordinary Days

UNICEF' s website - Children of Syria

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost | Luke 13:10-17

[Note: There is a link below to the UNICEF website, or you may reach it here. ]

An odd thing happens when you bend to help a child, or reach out to the disadvantaged, the weak , the disenfranchised, the poor, the victims and objects of prejudice and oppression. In the eyes of the oppressors and the prejudiced, you become one of the people you are trying to help. You are labeled, circumscribed, tossed into a category. Objectified.

Bigots always give themselves away, revealing their prejudices by the labels they place on others. They cannot fathom the idea that a person might support, admire, and befriend people who are unlike herself. Insidious, quiet, even otherwise unrecognized bigotry, in oneself or in someone else, can always be identified by the brush used to apply hatred and fear and by the labels applied to other people.

It works like this. Suppose you speak up about helping refugees from Syria or Africa. People who dislike the refugees will paint you either as someone with ties to people from those regions or as someone with a liberal political agenda. Those things might be true or they might not, but it is just as likely that you saw people who needed help, children who lacked proper places to sleep and food to eat, places to be safe, and you decided to help. It doesn’t make you a refugee, though it does make you a decent human being.

Healing of a Bleeding Woman, Rome, Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter
Healing of a Bleeding Woman, Rome, Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter

Suppose you speak up about discrimination against the LGBTQ community. People who discriminate against or dislike or disapprove of LGBTQ people will decide that you must be part of that community, though you may simply respect them as people, with the same rights and privileges and dignity as yourself, gay or not. While it is an honor to be accepted by the LGBTQ community, supporting gay rights does not make you gay, any more than helping the poor makes you poor, any more than feeding a starving child makes you a starving child, any more than listening to Mozart or reading Einstein makes you brilliant (although it doesn’t hurt.)

A very important point goes along with these ideas, and it is that there is nothing wrong with being a member of any of these groups — except for being one of the group who hate. That is the essential insanity of the response of oppression and bigotry. If you are a refugee, or poor, or a gay person experiencing discrimination, or a child needing food and shelter, you are still, of course and without question, a person with inalienable worth, value, and dignity. Neither my help nor the lack of it can change someone else’s inherent worth and value as a human being.

Identifying that a person’s circumstance needs to be changed—whether it is due to poverty, displacement, discrimination, natural disaster, or even plain bad choices—is a process of recognizing that each person suffering those needs is at least as valued and of at least as much worth in the eyes of God as those people who are able to help change these circumstances.

The Conversion of Mary Magdalene, Paolo Veronese, c1548. National Gallery
The Conversion of Mary Magdalene, Paolo Veronese, c1548. National Gallery

A woman came to the synagogue on the sabbath. She had been bent over, unable to stand up straight (something basic to humanity) for many years. Jesus called her over, touched her, and healed her. The leader of the synagogue was indignant that Jesus had worked a miracle on the day of rest.

Religion is what happens when we try to control the wildfire of faith.

We might wonder about Jesus interrupting his teaching to talk to a woman, even touch a woman and a sick woman at that, in the middle of a first century male-dominated religious gathering. By the simple fact of being a woman, her standing was questionable. By her being sick, a likewise sick religion would see her as judged by God. Both she and the community around her need healing. Jesus not only does not mind whether anyone takes offense, whether what he does follows the rules and etiquette of the synagogue, he goes out of his way to describe the woman’s ailment as a thing of evil rather than a judgment from God.

The gospels repeatedly tell stories of Jesus reaching out to the less fortunate, of associating with people who were victims of prejudice and discrimination. He befriended tax collectors, prostitutes, simple workers, poor people, housewives, as well and as easily as he associated with Nicodemus, a wealthy member of Jewish society. The prejudices and opinions of any of these people, rich or poor or respected or despised, had no bearing on the worth and dignity Jesus saw in each of them. He did not care what brush they might use to paint him or what labels his critics might use to slander him. The labels and the prejudices they represented remained the problem of the people who used them. Jesus only ever labeled one group—the hypocrites.

Come back on ordinary days, the leader of that synagogue tried to tell everyone. Come back and be healed on a day that is not the sabbath. Jesus thought differently. So long as we see people in need, every day is the sabbath. There is no such thing as an ordinary person, and there is no such thing as an ordinary day.

Link to UNICEF' s website - Children of Syria
Link to UNICEF’ s website – Children of Syria

When We Learn to Lie

Proper 20 (25)  |  Mark 9:30-37

When We Learn to Lie

Lectionary Project—Part of an ongoing three year project of weekly posts based on the Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary. A study in practical theology.

Children only lie about what they know. It’s one of the things that makes a child different than a grown-up.

Ask children how a vase or a window came to be broken, and like as not the answer is “I don’t know” when they know very well or “He did it” when “he” of all people did not. Ask them something that they do not know at all, such as why rainbows are curved or how an elephant might knit socks, and you will either get a wildly fanciful tale or a simple “I don’t know”.

Adults are still children, but children who have learned to lie about what we do not know. At the very least we lie in order to cover up our ignorance.


The disciples were adults. When Jesus began walking toward his home in Capernaum, he continued a dialogue he had begun with them earlier in this Gospel narrative, explaining to his disciples that people in Jerusalem were planning to kill him.

By the time Jesus got to his house and his followers had gathered around him, these same disciples were far from accepting what Jesus was telling them about his impending execution.  They were arguing among themselves over who was greatest disciple. They still believed that Jesus would rise to power, and they ignored what Jesus was telling them: they were squabbling over their rewards, their perks, in the new kingdom.

Maybe they didn’t grasp the truth that Jesus was going to be killed, or maybe on some level they did grasp the truth, but didn’t want to deal with it — we often lie to ourselves about hard things. Either way, they were unwilling to admit to Jesus that they didn’t understand or that they couldn’t handle it. When he asked them why they were arguing, they were grown up enough to lie about it.

SurfDiscoveryOk, the story says they were silent, but silence is sometimes just another way to tell a lie.

Jesus dealt with them by holding a child in his arms. We hear this story, and we think that the point is humility, or simplicity, or purity, and those things may also be true. It is possible that the point is honesty — to know what we do not know, and to be open to the truth, even when it’s hard.

We might lie to other people about a hard truth, but we are more likely to lie to ourselves by refusing to see it. We may wrap ourselves in so many lies that we can’t unravel them.

The desert, the great, dry, uninhabited desert, is a recurring image in holy texts. It’s where the prophets go to seek God. It is also where demons are sent to dwell. Perhaps it’s the same thing, in the end.

In the silence of the desert, the lies we tell ourselves begin to grow quiet. Demons are the whispers of our own delusions trying to find a new hold. With no one left to listen to them, the lies in which we disguise ourselves fall away, shedding like skin to blow away across the sand. When we are left alone in our desert, our self deception gone, our ambitions silenced, that is when we discover that we are like children once again. That is when we discover that we are, and always were, in the presence of God.

The child you welcome is you, and the child I welcome is me, no longer lying to cover our ignorance of God.