Reflection for Sunday October 18 – Brigit Hurley
Today’s Gospel story of the disciples fighting about who will sit closest to Jesus reminds me of the media coverage Pope Francis’ recent visit, with the media always surprised at who was “sitting at the Pope’s side.” Members of Congress? Homeless people? The United Nations? Children with disabilities? Prisoners?
It didn’t make sense to the media; it didn’t fit with our culture’s notion of who is important. It was a clear illustration of the central tenet of Catholic social teaching—every person has value, and worldly labels and notions of usefulness are irrelevant.
Pope Francis’ schedule was so newsworthy because as a nation we spend much of our time acting as if we believe, like the disciples, that position, money and power are what really matter.
Once in a while we are reminded that we can act out of a different set of values. On Oct. 16 – 18, houses of worship all over Monroe County will celebrate the Children’s Sabbath and in doing so will witness to a truth held in common by all faith traditions: We all belong to each other and must care for each other. Children have a special claim on our hearts and on our consciences.
In Christian churches the Children’s Sabbath is an opportunity to step back and reflect on the actions and teachings of Jesus that defy societal norms about power and status. We are invited to an upside-down world where, as Jesus tells his disciples, “whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”
Our job is to turn our world a little more upside-down every day.
We know this upside-down world; it’s familiar to us because it’s where we find Jesus in many Gospel stories—eating with tax collectors and adulterers, telling the young rich man to give everything away, and scolding the disciples for keeping the children from him.
It’s the place where a father welcomes home his prodigal son with a feast and then reminds his well-behaved, jealous son, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”
I think here in the United States we’re a little more like the elder son, feeling that because we work hard and do what is expected, we deserve to be celebrated. We buy into the notion that there’s only so much money, status, and power to go around and we deserve just a little more than the other guys.
But God our loving parent says, “All that is mine is yours”—and it always was, and it always will be. And—here’s the hard part – it’s for everyone.
In the upside-down world of the first being last and the great becoming servants, there will always be enough for everyone. It defies the reality of Rochester, where some of the best schools in the nation are a mile away from some of the worst, and where extreme racial and economic disparities persist in a community that embraces Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony.
The community we live in says that there are not enough resources to give every child a good education. We can’t possibly make sure that children don’t go to bed hungry. We can’t pay people doing certain kinds of work— no matter how hard they work each day—enough to take care of their families. We’re asked to believe in and participate in this lie on a regular basis.
But on this Children’s Sabbath weekend we can turn the world a little more upside down. We can act as if we really believe in the abundance that God promises to us. The catch is that God asks us to be the instruments of that abundance for each other. We have to practice radical generosity. We have to reject the lie that if poor and vulnerable people get more, I will have less.
In God’s upside down world—God’s kingdom—we are all better off when the marginalized are welcomed and those who are vulnerable and needy are restored. If we place the smallest and weakest at the center of our concern, we will have more than we could ever hope for.