The Sacrament of Little Children
Mark 9:33–37 (NKJV)
33Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?”
34But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest.
35And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”
36Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them,
37“Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”
The disciples have a dispute about who would be the greatest when christ came into his kingdom, luke tells us that jesus perceived the thought of their heart (lk.9:47)
When pride becomes a passion it is not in our mind’s thoughts, but in our hearts thoughts.
It reminds us again that the knowledge and organs of fallen man are ill.
St. Gregory Palamas, “how could one speak of health for the rational soul when the latter is ill in its faculty of knowledge.”
This pride is a result of the ignorance of God, an ignorance that has infected the deepest part of our hearts, and divided us from God’s revelation and healing grace.
Jesus response is to speak to the heart that is ill in the disciples: “if anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”
This is not rational knowledge he is dispensing here, it’s kingdom revelation.
I believe he is attempting to address the most fundamental disease of the soul, that of pride.
Pride is the demonic desire to be great, to be first, but it must be rooted out for the kingdom to come upon us.
Gregory of Nyssa says, "let vanity be unknown among you. Let simplicity and harmony and a guileless attitude weld the community together. Let each remind himself that he is not only subordinate to the brother at his side, but to all. If he knows this, he will truly be a disciple of christ."
Jesus is laying out the pathway for greatness in the kingdom of god, and it is not found in striving for greatness, but in self denial and lowly servanthood, which he modeled so beautifully:
St. John Chrysostom said, "if you are in love with precedence and the highest honor, pursue the things in last place, pursue being the least valued of all, pursue being the lowliest of all, pursue being the smallest of all, pursue placing yourselves behind others."
But then Jesus does something even more profound, he takes a little child and brings him into the middle of them… and then takes him up in his arms
In Orthdox iconography, St. Ignatius of Antioch is the child here.
As he holds the child he says, “whoever receives one of these little children in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
In doing this, Jesus places little children alongside the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the prisoner as opportunities to encounter Him in this temporal existence on earth.
In mathew 18, a parallel passage he says:
Matthew 18:3–4 (nkjv)
“assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
There is something beautiful about little children which I love
It is there innocence, and there simplicity and humility, which all too quickly gets lost by their immersion in this dark world.
Little children give no thought to themselves, they dance and play and laugh in such carefree ways
They don’t get caught up in their own self importance
It is the saints whose holiness recaptures this god like humility
The virtue of humility is what Jesus wanted us to see in this picture of the little Ignatius.
The Shepherd of hermas said, "they are as veritable infants, whose hearts do not invent evil, who hardly know what corruption is, and who have remained childlike forever. People such as these, therefore, undoubtedly dwell in the kingdom of god, because they in no way defile god’s commandments, but have continued in innocence all the days of their lives in the same state of mind."
Oh that the holy spirit would so communicate by his grace the innocence and humility of the suffering servant jesus to our hearts today ! (Mt.11:29 says, “learn from me, I am humble in heart)
It is only in humility that we will find the spiritual rest that we long to experience.
May we see with the eyes of our heart the pride that lies hidden within us and may it move us to prayer, contrition of heart, and tears.
But even more, may it move us to ascribe everything to God that is good in us, and welcome as normal the “feeling of a contrite soul” (St. John Climacus).
May god break us, and make us poor in spirit (mt.5:3)
May we stop judging others, love our neighbor, and think correctly of ourselves and our weakness, hiding our virtues, detaching from worldly things, and welcoming bodily trials and work.
Other suggestions of the Church Fathers are: to cultivate solitude, silence, simplicity, and the willingness to be unknown.
Then we will see the sin in our hearts healed…and demons defeated
St. Dorotheos of gaza, says, “such is the humility of the saints”.
St. John Chrysostom summarizes: “the foundation of our philosophy is humility”
Everything the church teaches is rooted in humility: no virtue is acquired without it. All our labor is useless without humility
Spiritual knowledge and the ability to love, the mysteries of the kingdom are revealed to the humble, for it unites man to god.
Let each one of us begin seeking this Holy humility and pray for its increase in our hearts!