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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Friday, February 5

And Jesus sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.”
—Mark 9:35-36

In the gospels, whenever you read that Jesus “sits down and calls the twelve,” fasten your seat belt: an important teaching is imminent. In the first century, sitting was the posture of a rabbi or teacher, and when Jesus “calls the twelve,” it means that he is giving his followers essential information.

When I was a child, there was a picture of this scene from Mark’s gospel tacked up on the wall of our Sunday School room: Jesus held a little boy in his arms, and he was surrounded by cherubic-looking, rosy-cheeked toddlers in nice clean clothes. This picture told me that Jesus loved children, and I assumed it was because they were—well, children.

In first century Palestine, children were about as unlike that picture as possible. For the most part, they were invisible, unappreciated and completely powerless. (And very few of them had rosy cheeks or nice clean clothes). Fathers wanted sons, but beyond that, children were commodities, and not very valuable ones, at that.

In this gospel passage, Jesus tells his disciples that if they want to be first in God’s kingdom, they need to “receive” (welcome) all those who are overlooked and undervalued by the rest of society. He’s telling them, and us, that some of these are young children, but the vast majority, then and now, are elderly, handicapped, or impoverished men and women of all ages.

Jesus is NOT telling the disciples to be like children themselves! I’m afraid that Sunday school picture gave me the idea that in order to be loved one needed to stay fresh and young and innocent. 

Only as I have lost most of those qualities, through age or experience, have I been able to sit at Jesus’ feet like a disciple, instead of as a child, and hear him say to me: Look around. Notice the people the world doesn’t see. Welcome them, in my name.

Help us, O God, to see all sorts and conditions of people as your beloved children. And give us the grace and courage to welcome them, in your name. Amen.

These Signposts originally appeared on explorefaith in 2007.