In response to the disciples’ argument about who is number one, Jesus provides this remarkable teaching: “Whoever receives one child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives not me but the One who sent me.”
In the Greco-Roman society of antiquity, the only individuals with legal and social status lower than that of a child were a slave and a household slave child, who was the least of all, the nobody-par-excellence, the almost literally invisible one. Jesus declares to his disciples then and now that to receive such a nobody in his name is to receive him, for in the encounter with the nobodies of our lives, there God is waiting for us. Think of the river of human beings fleeing the Middle East and flowing into western Europe, these persons with only the clothes on their backs and the children in their arms. In receiving them, there God is waiting for us. On a personal level, think of the individuals we might prefer not to be part of our lives. In the movement toward recognition, forgiveness and reconciliation God is waiting for us. Not to encounter these persons, to avoid them is to avoid the Living God in the very place where he awaits us.
The most compelling piece of evidence for the truth of this teaching is Jesus’ own practice, his life, his ministry. When it came to poor people, victims of disease, prejudice, injustice, social and religious ostracism, victims of violence- Jesus embraced them all unconditionally.
In the end, he not only embraced them but he took their place as the last and least of the nobodies, when he became the victim whose life would be crushed on the cross; it was from within this experience of the victim, when his body was trashed, his human life extinguished, that he prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”– “They don’t get it.” This Praying Victim pushes us to recognize the cross as a place of profound religious experience. If it is that kind of place for Jesus, it is meant to be that kind of place for us.
Excerpts from Father Isaac's Homily at this morning's Eucharist.