27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A man came into my office several years ago. Before coming to me, he had already introduced himself to me and he had become an acquaintance. He had it all: looks, personality, intelligence, talents, success, and great wealth. It is safe to say that he was the envy of many.
As he sat down, however, I could tell that he was deeply troubled. He started off with a disclosure by saying: “I’m highly educated and sophisticated, I’ doing well financially and career wise, I’m accomplished and successful, I’m businesslike and calculating.” To my great surprise, he immediately added: “Do you know what my problem is? I’m unhappy and miserable. I don’t trust anyone anymore. I’m a fierce, aggressive competitor.” “My problem is: I have lost the child within me.”
Somewhere along the line, somewhere along the way, I suppose many of us lose the child within us. John Updike warms us what can happen once we lose touch with the younger members of God’s family – saying: “If we (adults) lose touch with children, we cease to be human beings and become machines for eating and earning money.” While Albert Schweitzer says, “The tragedy of life is what dies inside us while we live.” A great part of that tragedy is when the child in us dies.
Jesus, in today’s gospel reading, says, “Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” In another gospel passage Jesus says, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” If anyone wants to enter the kingdom of heaven, he or she needs to be humble, like a child.
The humble one, the child, is someone who recognizes that he or she is in need of others. (Cardinal Tagle) The humble one knows one’s incompleteness and neediness, and accepts one’s weakness and powerlessness. The humble one has shed off all pretensions of self-reliance, of self-sufficiency, of independence.
The child in the eyes of Jesus is someone who does not get embarrassed, who does not get insulted to say with joy, with conviction, “I cannot complete myself. I need someone to rely on; I need to depend on someone greater than I.” “I need to depend on others in order to be made whole.” That is humility. That is being a child. We see this exemplified in Jesus himself. This is what we are called to be: to be humble like a child, to be humble like Jesus.
One of the illusions of our age is the illusion of being independent, self-reliant, self-made. Dependence is not considered a virtue in our contemporary age. There is a song that says, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” I guess it is no longer sung these days. Why? Because these days people who need people are not the luckiest people. They are mocked, ridiculed, scorned. They are considered as nuisance or irritants.
For Jesus children are great precisely because they need God. Our greatness lies in our great need for God. We have to realize that God, through other people, through creation, completes us. And this is what makes us great.
The gospel calls to recover the child in each of us – to be at home in our incompleteness, and to even rejoice in our incompleteness. Why? Because of our incompleteness we have a complete need for God. God completes us in our completeness. By becoming like children, as Jesus tells us, and by being at peace with our limitation and imperfection with our weakness and helplessness, with our deficiency and inadequacy, we can shed off all illusions and pretenses of total independence and self-reliance, and, thus, we can trust and depend on God completely.
Let us end with a prayer: Lord, help us to keep our sense of wonder. Keep us from becoming blind to Your fingerprints in the world around us. Teach us to be like a child, to be like You – humble and totally dependent on God. Make us always realize this profound truth: that it is in our childlike powerlessness and helplessness that God’s power works in us and through us. Amen.