37“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
It’s hard to convey the magnitude of this action of Jesus. Maybe it would have some of the correct emotional power if we saw Jesus take a homeless drunk in his arms, look his followers in the eye, and say, “Whoever welcomes him welcomes me.” Or perhaps if Jesus had taken that large, swaggering and apparently thieving young black man from Ferguson into his arms. Or the drowned child lying in the surf in Turkey with the red shirt and blue pants.
When we think of this child in Jesus’ arms, he or she is inevitably sweet and innocent. But that is not the point Jesus is making. In the realm of God, greatness is in showing regard for the least. It’s not that children aren’t loved in the ancient world; it’s that they have no status.
Jesus is trying to talk clearly and plainly to his followers about what awaits him in Jerusalem. Jesus is not talking in parables here. There is no hidden meaning. He will be rejected and crucified. And on the third day be raised. But this has no meaning to his hearers. They know no narrative of a messiah who dies. Messiahs reign. Messiahs reestablish the Davidic monarchy and deliver the nation from all its enemies. Messiahs purify the temple. Messiahs bring justice and righteousness. Messiahs lead heavenly armies and even cosmic battles against evil. But they do not die. There is nothing in their previous experience to comprehend Jesus dying.
And resurrection – this is something that happens at the climax of human history not in the middle. It happens to all, not to one. The dead are raised. The books are opened. The wicked are judged. The oppressed are vindicated. All things are set right. No, this word of Jesus doesn’t make any sense to his followers. So they go back to what they know. We are headed to Jerusalem. Jesus will deliver us from Rome. We will sit at his right and left hand. Who is the top dog? How does the pecking order go? Someone gets to sit at the high table, who will it be?
And then there is Jesus with this darn child as if the child gets to sit at the high table.