Now My Eyes Have Seen | Proper 25

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

1 Job answered the LORD: 2 I know you can do anything; no plan of yours can be opposed successfully. 3 You said, “Who is this darkening counsel without knowledge?” I have indeed spoken about things I didn’t understand, wonders beyond my comprehension. 4 You said, “Listen and I will speak; I will question you and you will inform me.” 5 My ears had heard about you, but now my eyes have seen you. 6 Therefore, I relent and find comfort on dust and ashes.

10 Then the LORD changed Job’s fortune when he prayed for his friends, and the LORD doubled all Job’s earlier possessions. 11 All his brothers, sisters, and acquaintances came to him and ate food with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him concerning all the disaster the LORD had brought on him, and each one gave him a qesitah and a gold ring. 12 Then the LORD blessed Job’s latter days more than his former ones. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys. 13 He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 He named one Jemimah, a second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15 No women in all the land were as beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave an inheritance to them along with their brothers. 16 After this, Job lived 140 years and saw four generations of his children. 17 Then Job died, old and satisfied.

Now My Eyes Have Seen

What are the things we most deeply fear? Since Halloween is right around the corner, maybe it’s an appropriate question to ask. I’m afraid of flying, but that probably stems from my absolute lack of control by putting my life in the hands of a complete stranger. If something goes wrong in-flight, there’s not much I can do except put my oxygen mask on and curl up in my seat like a dead opossum.

For Job, what he dreaded most was that chaos might come upon him in the very calamity that happened to his family. At the end of chapter 3, Job said, “I was afraid of something awful, and it arrived; what I dreaded came to me” (Job 3:25 CEB). Job’s fear was that chaos is real, that it exists in God’s creation.

In some recesses of our hearts and minds, don’t we all share Job’s fear? Aren’t we all afraid that some tragedy like these might befall us? If I’m honest, fear for my family’s safety constantly lingers at the distant edges of my mind because chaos exists, and I doubt I’m the only one whom that fear touches. Any one of the tragedies Job experienced can happen to us. Such catastrophes come suddenly, unexpectedly, and randomly.

It’s the randomness of such events, the unpredictability of chaos, the possibility that calamity could happen to us at any time, that’s terrifying, isn’t it? When those tragedies strike us or other people, we all have our moral paradigms and explanatory frameworks ready, and we use them to try to understand tragedy. We try to find meaning and purpose in it.

Sometimes, as spectators to sufferers, we try to shove meaning or purpose down the throat of those who are suffering. I’ve considered coming up with a list of things NOT to say at a funeral, because there’s a lot of stupid stuff that comes out of people’s mouths at funerals. Well-meant, but absolutely heartless, unempathetic, and stupid. It seems like, the greater the tragedy, the stupider the theological commentary. I believe mathematicians call that an inverse proportion.

I cringe every time I hear a person tell a grieving parent that God must have called their baby home because God needed another angel in heaven, or something good will come from this. Such words of “comfort” are bad theology. They’re horrible things to say. And they’re really an attempt to silence the grief of the griever by someone who isn’t grieving so they can distance themselves from the grief. If we can silence their grief, then it can’t touch us. Which, if you think about it, is just plain mean. Even if well-meant, those words put the mean in well-meaning.

Yet, we all hold on to interpretive frameworks like these so we can veil reality and organize our own—and other people’s—pain to make it appear as something else. Our interpretive frameworks take the reality of chaos, when it crashes into us, and forces it into something that looks orderly and definable, and, as a result, a little less terrifying. So, tragic death becomes “God’s plan” or God “trying to teach us something.”

It’s too terrifying for us to live in a universe where there isn’t always a perfect plan, so we invent a plan at all costs and we claim that it’s God’s as if we know God’s plan. That’s what Job’s friends did. They said, everyone knows that God always has a plan, everyone knows God is just, everyone knows these things don’t happen for no reason, among other things. When we attempt to explain or justify suffering by defending God—or what we need to assume about God for our own piece of mind—we can easily dismiss the pain of those who are often suffering in ways that are unmerited.

Job’s friends each had their frameworks for interpreting Job’s miserable situation. They tried to frame Job’s suffering in the context of divine punishment for the wicked (15:20-35), into a warning for those with loose ethics (33:14-30), into disciplinary education for the morally weak (5:17-19), and for those who are righteous, they suggested that suffering is just something to bear until God restores things so that we’re okay again (4:4-6; 8:20-21). But each of those frameworks dismissed the suffering and pain of a father who had lost ten children.

Job had his own framework for understanding the relationship between God and humans, too. The initial framework to which he clung was that his fear of losing the very things he lost could be kept at bay by being righteous. When that framework fell apart through the profound loss that Job experienced, he switched to another framework. Rather than accept the traditional common knowledge that his friends were spouting—which was the very framework Job once held and taught others about—Job grasped to a legal framework that allowed him to declare the disasters that had befallen him, and his family, were morally wrong. And God was morally wrong for allowing these things to happen. That framework gave Job someone to blame, and that someone was God.

But Job’s new moral paradigm, his interpretive framework for his suffering, still allowed him to not see truth about such suffering. It’s not that Job couldn’t see this truth, it’s that he was afraid to see it. It was a means of denial. The legal framework was first introduced as parody in chapter 9 but it becomes something Job starts thinking about seriously in chapters 23 through 31.

What smashes the paradigms to bits is when God speaks from the whirlwind, answers Job directly, and presents Job with the reality that chaos exists in creation. Job’s quarrel with God is a long, desperate attempt to keep the reality of what Job dreaded away: that chaos can overcome anyone, even the most righteous of people who do everything right, plus a little extra just in case. God’s speech to Job reveals that there is no moral paradigm or interpretive framework for suffering. God didn’t offer Job a plan or a reason for what happened. God offered the truth that sometimes, bad things just happen. Sometimes chaos turns our world up side down. But that doesn’t mean God has abandoned us.

Job found it impossible to experience the presence of God in desolation. But God reveals that, even when we feel abandoned: when we feel like we’re the brother or sister of jackals and creatures of the most barren places—as Job did—God is there in that desolation sustaining life, sending rain and making grass sprout where no humans have ever lived (c.f. Job 38:25-27). God’s view of jackals and their world is quite different from Job’s.

From the whirlwind speech, God doesn’t give Job the answer he sought. Instead, God gifts Job with sight. God dismantles Job’s framework for trying to understand his suffering, and only then can Job face his fear by encountering the very image of his dread in the chaotic Behemoth and Leviathan. They’re symbols of chaos—the very chaos that overcame Job’s household—but even chaos is limited and restrained by God. Only when Job sees his fear can he see himself through God’s eyes. And only then can Job let go of his obsessive demand for a trial with God and begin the painful process of living beyond tragedy.

Job confessed, “My ears had heard about you, but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5 CEB). That gift of sight—which may or may not be physical sight—is when Job is able to repent of his interpretive frameworks and accept that God is with him even in the depths of his pain and suffering.

Still, Job isn’t an easy book. We want Scripture to give us answer, but Job doesn’t give us answers or solutions. In fact, verses 10-17 seem to contradict the apparent solution in verse 6. Verse 6 actually highlights the necessity to wrestle with the material because there are at least five ways to translate and interpret the Hebrew in that one verse, all with different meanings (c.f. Carol A. Newsome, The Book of Job, NIB Vol. IV, p.629). The CEB translation emphasizes that Job relents of his former mindset and now finds comfort in the human condition.

If the book simply stopped there, we’d be good. But, it goes on. God declared Job correct, and Job’s friends wrong in their speech about God. Job sacrificed and prayed for his friends, and that is when God restored Job’s fortunes. The Lord doubled all Job’s earlier possessions. He had seven more sons and three daughters. However, the Hebrew word for seven is an odd form that might mean twice seven, so Job might have had fourteen sons and three daughters. And, Job lived 140 more years and saw four generations of his children, which was twice the normal life expectancy (c.f. Psalm 90:10) when an ordinarily blessed lifespan was to see two generations of your children (c.f. Psalm 128:6).

This doubling of Job’s former possessions and family might seem innocuous, but if you know about Israelite case law, it raises serious questions. The restitution owed by thieves was double the injured person’s loss (c.f. Exodus 22:1-15). So, God gives to Job the restitution owed by a criminal. Did Job win his case even as he repented of it? Also, paradoxically, the restitution God provides actually proves what Job’s three friends had been saying all along as correct.

It leaves us a little baffled, but by not giving the book a firm solution, our craving for a solution is exposed as an attempt to evade the same truth Job tried to evade: that chaos is a part of life, and divergent views can be valid. Remember, Job rejected his previous words and changed his understanding of God, which is not insignificant for a man who was so righteous as Job! It suggests that, sometimes, what we know with absolute certainty might not be the full truth after all. We still have more to learn.

The seeming abruptness of Job’s restoration can feel cold and uncomfortable, too. Surely the birth of more sons and daughters can’t replace the tragic loss of the ten who died. I don’t think that’s what the book suggests. The key to understanding this, I believe, is verse 11: “All his brothers, sisters, and acquaintances came to him and ate food with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him concerning all the disaster the LORD had brought on him, and each one gave him a qesitah and a gold ring” (CEB). This gathering of Job’s community who surrounded him and cared for him is when the seed of Job’s restoration was planted and began to grow.

His community came to him. They shared his distress, shared his pain, shared his grief, and made sure he ate. They gave him a qesitah, which is an unknown weight of goods, and gold rings. It’s the generosity and love of Job’s community that grew into the restored fortunes.

Something else to which we should pay attention is the fullness of this restoration. I noted in Bible study that the author of Job must have been a feminist because, at the conclusion, the daughters are named. Because of its roots in a patriarchal culture, Scripture has a bad habit of leaving women unnamed and uncounted. That truth is obvious even in the New Testament. Matthew 14 tells us about Jesus feeding the five-thousand. But what it actually says is this: “About five thousand men plus women and children had eaten” (Matthew 14:21 CEB). Then, in the next chapter, Jesus fed the four-thousand. But what it actually says is this: “Four thousand men ate, plus women and children” (Matthew 15:38 CEB). The women in these accounts—and so many others within Scripture—were not even worthy of being counted! They were a footnote.

It’s extraordinary, then, that Job not only counts Job’s daughters, but names them and declares that they inherited as equals with their brothers. There is one example of daughters inheriting their father’s property in Numbers 27, but it has nothing to do with equality between women and men. Daughters could only inherit when their father had no sons. Job had either seven or fourteen sons, yet his three daughters were given an inheritance along with their brothers.

It’s in this kind of world, in this kind of restoration, in this kind of equality that Job was able to find satisfaction and die with the fullness of that satisfaction as the last word over his life. As a Christian, I think we have a lot of work to do to change the mindset of our culture about matters of equality and justice before I can say the same. But Job gives me hope that even the most righteous can change their minds.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Rev. Christopher Millay

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Wealth | Proper 23

Mark 10:17-31

17 As Jesus continued down the road, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?”

18 Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. 19 You know the commandments: Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Don’t cheat. Honor your father and mother.”

20 “Teacher,” he responded, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” 22 But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions.

23 Looking around, Jesus said to his disciples, “It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom!” 24 His words startled the disciples, so Jesus told them again, “Children, it’s difficult to enter God’s kingdom! 25 It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”

26 They were shocked even more and said to each other, “Then who can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible with human beings, but not with God. All things are possible for God.”

28 Peter said to him, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you.”

29 Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news 30 will receive one hundred times as much now in this life—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment)—and in the coming age, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.”

Wealth

Believe it or not, I pick the Scripture texts from which I’ll preach several months in advance. In fact, I chose to preach on this text back on June 1st. So, I didn’t plan for this to be the consecration Sunday reading, but I guess it works. After all, Consecration Sunday is when we present our giving pledges for the coming year, and in this text, Jesus addresses something about faith and wealth and the values of God’s kingdom. But this isn’t an easy text to hear or to understand. So, let’s walk through it together.

When this exchange with the man takes place, Jesus had just blessed the children after scolding the disciples to let the little children come to him and explaining that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a little child will never enter it (c.f. Mark 10:15).

In Matthew’s version of this encounter, the man is described as “young” (19:22); in Luke’s Gospel he’s described as a “ruler” (18:18). So, in Christian tradition, this man is often called the rich young ruler. But, in Mark’s Gospel, he’s simply identified as a man with no other adjectives.

There’s no reason to doubt the man’s sincerity, as we often do when reading this story. When he approaches Jesus, he kneels. When he addresses Jesus, it’s with great respect. And when he questions Jesus, it seems—at least to me—that he genuinely wants to know the answer to a very serious concern.

But, as I said a moment ago, Jesus had just taught that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom—a better rendering of the Greek word is receive—whoever doesn’t receive God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it. It’s a lesson this man obviously didn’t hear because the man asks Jesus “What must I do to obtain eternal life” (Mark 10:17 CEB). Instead of receiving the kingdom in complete dependence, like a child, the man wanted to know what he could do.

It’s a mindset that’s typical of the privileged, in whatever capacity that we’re privileged. I think it’s important that we recognize our privilege over others: I’m white, I’m male, I’m ordained clergy, and there are certain amounts of privilege over others that go with each of those. Early in my marriage, when Joy would tell me about an issue she was having, I would try to solve it for her. Like an idiot, I would try to figure out what to do to fix her problem when all my wife wanted was for me to listen to her. Privileged people can have a mindset that we can do our way out of any problem. If the problem is obtaining eternal life, tell me what to do. I’ll put that on my list and check it off once it’s done.

Eternal life obtained. Check!

What’s more, the man wanted to know what he could do to inherit eternal life. While I like the Common English Bible, obtain probably isn’t the best translation here. The man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. My grandmother had her twelve grandchildren in her will, so I received a small inheritance. I didn’t do anything to inherit it. It’s what Grandma wanted to give. An inheritance is usually something a person can only be given. There’s not much anyone can do to inherit something. Inheritances are received. So, the man’s question is a little odd even if it is sincere.

Jesus responded to the man’s question by referring to several of the Commandments: specifically, the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth commandments (c.f. Exodus 20:12-16; Deuteronomy 5:16-20) along with a comment against fraud (c.f. Deuteronomy 24:14; Amos 8:5). These commandments remind us of the requirements of authentic and vibrant community life, and justice within our community. For authentic community to exist, we can’t kill each other, we can’t commit adultery with another person’s spouse, we can’t give false testimony to wrongfully convict our neighbors, we can’t defraud each other (the command against fraud in Deuteronomy 24 includes Israelites and immigrants), and we show honor to our parents by caring for them in their old age.

When the man responded that he had kept these things since he was a boy, Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. While we expect Jesus to love everyone, the statement by Mark suggests that Jesus honored the question and the questioner. This was a man who was trying to be faithful, who wanted to do what was right, and it seemed that Jesus saw that in him. But the requirements of discipleship can move us beyond the law. Jesus noted the one thing the man lacked, which was the utter trust in God he described earlier when teaching about how we must receive the kingdom of God like a child. It was this lack of trust that Jesus sought to bring to completion in the man’s faith.

Jesus said, “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me” (Mark 10:21b CEB). Out of his love for this man, Jesus gave him something to do. And we’re told that the man was dismayed at Jesus’ words, and he went away sorrowful because he had many possessions.

Only now in the story do we find out that this man was wealthy. Like the majority of interpretations throughout Christian history, our interpretation of this man’s sorrow and dismay stems from an assumption that he went away in sorrow because he was unwilling do what Jesus told him to do. That’s how we often interpret these lessons.

I’d suggest that one judgment against us might be that we hear these lessons, we think: Well, that person should have done better, they should have obeyed Jesus. Then, we walk away without even attempting to obey the same command. I wonder if our assumptions about other people in these Biblical accounts is our unconscious attempt to comfort ourselves for failing—actually, for not even trying—to be faithful in the same ways as those we’re judging in the text.

The truth is that we don’t know if the man walked away sorrowful because he wouldn’t sell off his possessions and give the money to the poor. It’s entirely possible that the man walked away sorrowful because he intended to do exactly what Jesus told him to do: to sell his many possessions, to give to the poor, and to come back and follow Jesus. That kind of bold decision, that kind of radical action, that kind of leaping out into the deepest waters of faith would not be emotionless, would it? It’s difficult enough for many of us to throw away our junk, which is why we have mini-storage units all over the place. To sell our possessions would be a monumental relinquishment. It could be incredibly painful.

Jesus’ words and invitation to this man begs questions. What is the relationship between faith and possessions? Why would this man need to sell his possessions in order to follow Jesus?

I have heard Christian people say that they don’t think pastors should talk about money from the pulpit. I’ve heard that sentiment about political policy, too. Yet, the fact is that Jesus spoke about money and possessions more than any other topic except for the Kingdom of God. (In fact, many of his teachings about the Kingdom of God have to do with money and possessions). And, Jesus promised the disciples that they would stand before the political leaders of the world, (c.f. Matthew 10:18-28; Mark 13:9-13; Luke 21:12-19), just as the prophets stood before—and often against—the politicians of their day (c.f. 2 Samuel 12:1-12; 1 Kings 18).

If Jesus taught so much about money and possessions, we can be sure that our relationship with wealth is a deeply spiritual concern. In fact, it seems to be such a serious concern that nothing less than our salvation is at stake. Why was this man told to sell his possessions and give to the poor? My guess is that his many possessions were what kept him from relying on God and receiving the kingdom like a child. Remember, the man wanted to know what he could do to receive eternal life. Jesus told him that he needed to let go of the things that held his heart captive. Jesus told us in another place, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21 CEB).

Where is our treasure? What do we value most? If we value God’s kingdom, eternal life, salvation—those words seem to be used interchangeably in Mark—then we’ll be able to let go of the things that can be a stumbling block to receiving it. Jesus told the rich man that, if he sold his possessions and gave the money to the poor, then he would have treasure in heaven because that’s where the man’s heart would be after such a bold act of faith. After that, the man was invited to become a disciple of Jesus: to follow him.

Even the disciples were startled and shocked when Jesus told them three times that it’s difficult for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom. In their world, the prevailing theology of the day said that the wealthy were wealthy because they were good people and God was blessing them. Their wealth was a spiritual blessing and proof that they were faithful. Or course, they knew of exceptions just as we do. The book of Job is, seemingly, one big exception. But, for Job, it all worked out in the end, so it’s really not much of an exception.

In many ways, the teachings of Jesus take the theological assumption that good things happen to good people, bad things happen to bad people, the good are rewarded with wealth and health, and the bad are punished with poverty and disease, and he turned it up-side-down. When everyone thought the wealthy were blessed, Jesus said, “Happy are you who are poor, because God’s kingdom is yours” (Luke 6:20b CEB). Jesus preached a radical divine reversal of our human assumptions about who and what is valuable and important. Jesus said, “many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first” (Mark 10:31 CEB). And the stark-yet-exaggerated language Jesus uses ought to tell us that Jesus is serious about this stuff.

At the same time, Jesus reminds us that salvation isn’t ours to earn. There’s nothing we can do to inherit eternal life. The kingdom of God is a gift, and we must receive it like a child would receive a gift. Salvation is impossible for human beings, but all things are possible with God. Now, that does not mean that we get to ignore the demands of faithful discipleship because we can’t earn the kingdom no matter what we do. That’s like Paul arguing against the idea that, because grace is more powerful than sin, we should sin more so that we can get more grace (c.f. Romans 6:1). On the contrary, we are called to repent, to change our hearts and minds, to walk in newness of life, among other things.

The challenge for us as followers of Jesus is to get rid of the things that hinder our full trust in God. For those of material means, wealth and possessions is almost always a hindrance. Does that mean we should sell everything we own and make ourselves poor? No. I don’t think that’s what Jesus is saying here. The disciples were fishermen, and they still fished throughout the Gospel stories so they obviously didn’t sell their boats. Peter had a house, and his mother-in-law lived there (c.f. Matthew 8:14; Mark 1:30-31; Luke 4:38). The disciples didn’t impoverish themselves and their families. But they did give up what they needed to give up so they could be about the work of Jesus Christ and follow God’s teachings.

In a way, we can turn our stumbling blocks into blessings. At times, we all worry about money, and we usually take pride in our possessions. How easy is it for us to give our wealth away, and do we give as God requires of us? Ten percent is a lot. I know because my wife and I give 10.7% of my income to church, and we give more to support other ministries that we think are important. (I don’t say that to boast. I say that so that you know that your pastor practices what he preaches). I learned a long time ago that, if you can give wealth away, if you can give generously, then your treasure won’t be in your money and possessions. Your treasure will be in heaven.

It’s important that we consider where our treasure is. May God give us the grace we need to value most what is truly valuable.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

~Rev. Christopher Millay

Let Them Come | Proper 22

Mark 10:13-16

13 People were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them. But the disciples scolded them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he grew angry and said to them, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. 15 I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” 16 Then he hugged the children and blessed them. (CEB)

Let Them Come

As a parent, I wonder what the Disciples’s problem was.

Did they not have children of their own, so they didn’t see the importance of allowing children to be blessed?

Did they think Jesus was too busy to be bothered with children, who, in the Disciples’ patriarchal society, were some of the least valued and most vulnerable?

Were the children making a scene, as children are often capable of doing, and the Disciples wanted to clear them out for the sake of some peace and quiet?

We don’t really know for certain, but in the greater scheme of Mark’s narrative this is one more example of how the Disciples just didn’t get this Kingdom of God thing that Jesus was preaching. It’s the continuation of a negative portrayal of the Disciples in this section of Mark’s Gospel, beginning in the middle of chapter 8 and continuing through the end of chapter 10 (8:22-10:52). This negative portrayal shows us that the Disciples were constantly concerned with positions of power and influence, and they were constantly getting it wrong.

So, perhaps what the Disciples were really concerned about here was that, if these parents were bringing their children to Jesus for a blessing, children who have no status in their society, then they were essentially taking up the Disciples’s precious time with Jesus. Maybe they thought these children didn’t have a claim on Jesus, they didn’t have a right to be there. Children certainly weren’t more important than them. Likely, in their humble opinions, the Disciples were the important ones. They were the chosen followers of Jesus. They were hand-picked by Jesus, himself. They should get the majority of Jesus’ time and attention. They deserved the blessings. These parents, by bringing their silly children to Jesus for a blessing they probably didn’t deserve, were getting in the way.

It’s interesting that we aren’t told specifically who the Disciples were rebuking: were they rebuking the children, or the parents who were bringing them to Jesus for a blessing? One thing that is certain: we know toward whom Jesus directed his anger. We’re told that Jesus became angry at what he saw the Disciples doing in turning the children away.

Some translations render the Greek word here as indignant or angry. I kind of like the old King James rendering, which says Jesus was “much displeased” (KJV). The Disciples were trying to exclude those whom their society and culture deemed unworthy, while Jesus constantly had to remind the Disciples that his ministry is one of inclusion: even to children and the women who were most likely the ones bringing them forward to be blessed by this holy man. The Disciples were trying to enforce the social norms of the day, while Jesus was more or less smashing them to bits because the social norms of any human culture aren’t necessarily the norms of God’s Kingdom.

Today is World Communion Sunday. I have to admit that I’ve always thought of World Communion Sunday as a bit of a bad joke. After all, we’re United Methodists, we’re Wesleyans, and if we know anything about John Wesley’s theology or the practical divinity of Methodism, we know that every Sunday should be World Communion Sunday. Wesley insisted that his Methodists received the sacrament at least weekly because it’s the grand channel of God’s grace. Even more so than breakfast, it’s a meal that’s too important—too beneficial—to skip.

Nevertheless, the one thing that World Communion Sunday has going for it, in my mind, is that it does attempt to remind us of the universality of God’s grace, and that the Gospel, the Good News of God’s Kingdom, and the salvation offered to all in Jesus Christ, is world-wide. The Good News is open to all people of all cultures and all nations. No one is left outside the possibility of God’s redemptive grace, from those who are seemingly the most important people in the world to those who are wrongly thought of as the non-essentials of our various cultures. The Christian church is world-wide, and despite what our culture—or any other culture—thinks of the worthiness of certain people, all are invited by God to enter God’s Kingdom.

Still, the meaning of what Jesus is teaching the Disciples here can get away from us first-world, 21st century folk. When we hear Jesus talk about children like this, we tend to romanticize the whole thing. We tend to put children on a pedestal: thinking them to be unspoiled and innocent little creatures. My assumption is that most of the people who have this romanticized idea about children either never were parents, or they’ve suffered a brain injury of some sort that has completely wiped their memory of parenthood.

As a father of three, I have absolutely no idealistic notions of the innocence of children. I tend to agree with the person who suggested that children are the perfect theological cure for anyone who says they don’t believe in original sin. Innocence of children? My foot!

The Greco-Roman world didn’t have any of our modern romanticized ideas of the innocence of children either. Jesus didn’t say that we have to receive the Kingdom of God as a little child because children are innocent. None of us can do that because none of us are innocent. Jesus said we need to receive the Kingdom of God as a little child because, in that first century Greco-Roman, male-centered world, children were completely dependent upon their father for everything. Children belonged to their father and remained subject to his authority even as adults. Children were the non-persons in that world. They had nothing, and they couldn’t get anything unless someone gave it to them. They were dependent upon their father for their status, their inheritance, even for the means of life itself. Children received everything as a gift, and that kind of receiving is the only way we can enter the Kingdom of God.

No one enters the Kingdom of God because of their status or their influence, which is what the Disciples kept fighting about. No one enters because of who they are. We don’t get to check our accomplishments off a list and say, Look at what I’ve done, God, you know I deserve to make the cut. Mark emphasized that entrance into the Kingdom of God is wholly and completely dependent upon God’s grace. God has offered this gift to all people—Jesus died for all people—; we have only to receive it as a gift.

Sometimes we’re a lot like the Disciples. We have this seemingly natural urge to want to fence people out. We tend to want to exclude people who, in our judgment, are unworthy to receive the Kingdom of God. Sometimes we forget that God’s perspective is different from ours. Psalm 14 can help adjust our view by reminding us that, “The LORD looks down from heaven on humans to see if anyone is wise, to see if anyone seeks God, but all of them have turned bad. Everyone is corrupt. No one does good—not even one person!” (Psalm 14:2-3 CEB). And this same God who sees this in us as he looks upon us from the throne—for some unfathomable reason—chooses to cover us with grace each day, worked out a way to forgive us, recklessly desires to be reconciled to us, and unimaginably offers the Kingdom to us.

Of course, that’s not to say that we shouldn’t strive for perfection in holiness and love. In another place, Jesus tells us to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 NRSV). And Paul tells us, “I desire that you insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works; these things are excellent and profitable to everyone” (Titus 3:8 NRSV). Yet, even as we devote ourselves to holiness and good work, we must recognize that all is gift. All is grace. Outside of God’s grace we have nothing.

The reality of being a child of God is that it has nothing at all to do with one’s age. According to what Jesus is telling us in this text, the oldest person in this room had better be child-like in their receptiveness of the Kingdom of God. God’s Kingdom is a gift offered to us, and we must receive the gift with the understanding that we are completely dependent upon God for our salvation.

The invitation list to enter the Kingdom of God is longer than we can possibly imagine. How shall we respond when we see the least, the non-persons of our culture, coming forward to receive it? Do we act like the Disciples and attempt to fence them out and tell them they don’t belong here? Or do we welcome them with the radical hospitality of Jesus and embrace them with the loving recognition that the Kingdom of God belongs to them?

The reason Jesus got angry at his Disciples is because they thought it was their job to blacklist certain people from receiving God’s abundant blessings of grace: a grace that we are all radically dependent upon. None of us can set the conditions for entrance into God’s Kingdom. We must receive the Kingdom as a child, not because we’re innocent—clearly we’re not—but because, like children, we are utterly in need, wholly reliant, completely dependent upon the grace of God.

And if we’re eager to receive this gift, we should be eager to see that others receive it as well. The Good News of Jesus Christ is proclaimed for all to hear, and the Kingdom of God is open for anyone who would receive it. Thanks be to God that such grace extends even to us!

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

~Pastopher