Sunday, September 09, 2007

23rd Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 18

1At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2He called a child, whom he put among them, 3and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

“Wherever Christ is, there is water.”

Every baptism comes with a complimentary parenting tip.

Just after you have clean out every toy with lead-based paint, don’t forget to remove the excessive praise. It turns out that using phrases such as “what a smart boy” may create a falsely inflated sense of self that won’t equip your child for tough times to come. When faced with something truly difficult, the child may choose to quit rather than risk their identity as a “smart boy.” Better to praise effort, saying, “you worked really hard on that.”

Gone too are phrases such as “what a good baby,” because they assume that the inverse is also possible: a bad baby. Could we say, “there are no bad babies, only babies that make bad choices”? No, babies just are. They do baby things that are neither good nor bad. This, of course, got me thinking about all the things babies are not: There are no ambitious babies, successful babies, workaholic babies, arrogant babies, or babies trying to find an edge. Babies are not competitive, aggressive, boastful or even bold. Babies just are.


The disciples of Jesus, on the other hand, were always trying to get a leg up on each other. On several occasions Jesus finds them trying to work out some kind of internal ranking system whereby the title “greatest disciple” could be known. Jesus is very patient. Taking a child, he said, ‘friends, unless you can become like a child, you cannot enter the Kingdom. Only someone humble like a child can become the greatest in the Kingdom.’

Back to babies. It seems there is something about babies and small children that make them uniquely qualified for life in the Kingdom. Something that they have that the rest of us don’t. Something, perhaps that they didn’t lose along the way that we disciples misplaced long ago.

Babies live in the moment. Babies are trusting. Babies depend on others and in this way are completely open to gifts and resources that exist beyond themselves. They are humble. These are kingdom-virtues Jesus commends to the disciples and by extension commends to us: accept that there is a power beyond yourself and that dependence on others is virtue and not a failing.

We have often thought babies are in a kind of pre-human state of utter dependency before they develop enough to make it on their own. In fact, Jesus is arguing the opposite: in Kingdom-thinking, we begin close to what it means to be fully human and we forget as we go. Babies, then, are our teachers and mentors, demonstrating how to accept the help of others and reject the idea that we can make it on our own.


When we baptize babies we bless the very things Jesus found in that little child long ago. We bless the openness to God, the state of grace uncluttered by the cares of the world, the Kingdom-vision of a world where we look to others for support rather than ourselves.

We baptize in water: the water God provided in the desert to a wandering Israel, the river of life that flows under the city of God, and the living water Jesus offered at the well. Tertullian said, “Wherever Christ is, there is water.” Baptized in the River Jordan, teaching at the water’s edge, walking on the sea: Jesus is present to us by water. Brooding over the water of creation’s birth, healing with the water of his own spittle, and water flowing from his pierced side: Wherever Christ is, there is water.

We live with a thirst for God. From the uncluttered life of a small child to the grown-up desire for return to a state of grace, we thirst for God. It comes in glimpses: a sunset over the lake, the gentle sound of the river’s flow, the joyfulness of a summer rain. We have a mysterious connection to the water that cannot be easily explained.

As a child, I was never one for sandcastles. With Dutch DNA, I was the kid at the water’s edge trying to dig a canal protected by a sluice gate. And while my large water-diversion projects ultimately failed, I never lost a sense of the power of water to remake a landscape or preoccupy a child. In bodies that are mostly water, and on a planet that is mostly water, we are never far from it. Baptized in water, we remain connected to the source of all things and the Author of all things. This is good news for today.


Post a Comment

<< Home