Arms of Welcome
Dear God, I come to You as a little child. May Your arms be open to welcome and embrace me today.
Read MARK 9:30–41
30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
Whoever Is Not Against Us Is for Us
38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
When we pray The Lord’s Prayer, we begin by saying, “Our Father,” not “My Father.” There’s no exclusivity here. There is a family of all those who belong to Jesus Christ.
When Christians are depicted in television dramas, they are often shown as a rather austere, inward-looking and exclusive group of adults. You might want to ask how much this description reflects your own experience of church. This passage suggests that the first-century church might well have been in danger of fitting this picture. The (male) disciples had received further teaching about Jesus’ forthcoming Passion, which they again failed to understand (32); but instead of discussing this most important topic, they fall back on their own concerns about which of them is “the greatest” (34). Such a discussion indicates how inward-focused they were. The extent to which they guarded the exclusivity
of their group is shown by their desire to prevent Jesus’ kingdom work being carried out through someone who was “not one of us” (38).
Jesus’ response is dramatic, opening his arms wide in welcome. In an enacted parable, he takes a child by the hand and hugs him in the midst of the group (36). My experience of doing this when welcoming children into the church is that it is far from austere and always fun! Jesus’ powerful point is that to embrace so low-status an individual into the heart of the group is to welcome Jesus; and to welcome Jesus is to welcome God (37).
The church has often read this passage symbolically, that the child represents those of simple faith, for example. In the ancient world, where children were abandoned at birth when they could not be looked after, this teaching may have represented a call to embrace these children in need. Certainly, this is a call that the church has often taken seriously. Do we still do so? What could you do in your church to make children feel really welcome?
Consider the implications of the following song from Romans 8:17: “We are heirs of the Father; we are joint heirs with the Son. We are children of the kingdom, we are family, we are one.” The Internet offers versions of this song. You will be lifted up in joy to the Lord.
Our Father, help us to offer arms of welcome to others. We all belong to You.