Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”
We recently heard this story. A couple was seeking custody of a little boy they had cared for as foster parents. The child had been horribly abused, physically and emotionally, sent to bed each night in a small dog’s cage where he had to sleep huddled and cramped with his little knees under his chin. The foster father said that even when he and his wife put the boy to bed- in a real bed, his own bed- he continued to sleep huddled up, his knees angled up and taut. The man said that he and his wife would sneak in at night on tip-toe to relax the boy’s knees, ease them down gently, insistently so that he could relax and sleep more peacefully. But it would take many nights of repeating that gentle, steady gesture before the boy could finally trust and lie down and rest in peace and security.
When terrible things happen to little kids, they usually believe it’s their fault. Even though it’s not true, their logic is: “If I weren’t naughty, this wouldn’t have happened.” Perhaps we too think we know what we deserve. We are sinners after all, we’ve messed up and we deserve it (whatever it might be).
This morning Jesus shows us a different way. He takes the child, the little child within, the place where we are vulnerable and frightened; he embraces this little child, “putting his arms around it.” Then amazingly he identifies himself as the child. Jesus is the small, vulnerable one.
Only love, God’s forgiveness, can ease the rigidity of our fear and knee-jerk responses. Only the warm embrace of Christ Jesus can ease and heal and teach us not to scrunch and clench and hide. We have “received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” The Spirit of Christ empowers us to be strong, secure enough as the Father’s beloved ones so that we can trust, even relax and fall back into that love and then go and do likewise- forgiving as we have been forgiven. Not because nothing has happened, too much has happened- I have often made a mess of things, I have hurt, and I have been hurt. But forgiveness renews and recreates possibility, even restores lost innocence.