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This article was published in the Summer 2001 (Volume 2) issue of The Journal.

You and your children 

In 1999 Fr Robert Murray SJ preached at the eucharist at the AIF Heythrop meeting ( Interchurch Families 1999, 7,2, p.2.) He gave the following homily this year, on 24th February 2001; his introduction on admission to communion was similar to that printed two years ago. 

Readings: Ecclesiasticus 17: 1-15; Mark 10: 13-16
A sermon appropriate to interchurch families can concentrate on various aspects of the Christian reality that you represent and constitute within the whole, world-wide, Christian family. There is the tension within which you live, between the claims of the churches to which spouses respectively feel bound in loyalty. There is the other, more joyful, side of that division: the mutual enrichment that can come from discovering the spirituality of another Christian tradition. There is the serious question facing all who live in obedience to their own church's laws and feel bound to respect those of their spouse’s church: namely, is there not a higher obedience which we must learn, and make the grounds for our decisions in conscience? 

But isn't it curious that so many theological questions can be formulated without addressing the fact that interchurch couples become interchurch families? Today the lectionary decides the theme for me: Children! Jesus' love for children and his repeated call to his disciples to learn from them; his teasing conundrum about entry into the Kingdom of God (or Heaven) being conditional on receiving it 'like a little child'; the question of what aspects of a child's behaviour must be our model – simplicity? greediness? wonder? tantrums? living in the present?

Let us enter together into this scene. Jesus is sitting in the shade of a tree in the middle of a village, talking to the twelve men he is trying to train. Perhaps the women disciples are fetching water, or buying fruit; perhaps they are listening. 

People have heard of this wonderful teacher and healer. It gets around the village. First one woman, then another, thinks how lovely it would be for their children to be touched and blessed by Jesus. None of the gospels mention sick children this time; the mothers just want Jesus to touch their little ones. But they have to get past these officious men who are surrounding Jesus like a bodyguard. What makes the disciples try to keep them off? 'Jesus is busy'? 'This is our hour with our Master'? 'I'm in the middle of asking a very clever question'? 'Jesus is tired. It's our job to protect him from these demanding women'? 

Whatever the disciples' motive, Jesus is really angry with them. Mark is the only one who tells us this detail; he uses a strong word. Jesus' anger shows that he blames the disciples for not understanding that he will want the children to come to him. Why, it's not long since he gave the disciples a stern talking-to for squabbling about who was to be number one, and sat a child on his knee to show who he thinks is most important! 

This time he doesn't need to call a child; their mothers have brought them. Jesus is glad; he really wants to touch and bless the children, and once again make them an example to his disciples, who still think the Kingdom of God is some kind of royal court with different ranks in it. No! The little children are the top rank: want to be like them, or you won't get in. So Jesus doesn't merely touch the children with the tip of his finger. He picks them up and cuddles them (again, only Mark has this detail), lays his hands on their heads like a father and blesses them. 

Let us join those mothers and children. Let us be bold to push past those officious disciples. Jesus wants you to bring your children to him, wants to bless them. He wants to do this for every mother and father among you; he knows you all love him and have made him the centre of your marriages. He has given you children to be the very cement in the house you have built together. How can he want the sacramental sign and means of union in your marriages to be the sign of division? I believe that you, members of the Association of Interchurch Families, together with your children, are also a sign, as Isaiah said. 'Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells in Mount Zion' (Is. 8:18). You are a special sign of the Kingdom growing on earth, with a life that will have power to overcome disunity.

And yet you are members of separated limbs of Christ's Body, suffering because of the difficulties your situation brings. But through it all, remember Jesus' love for each and all of you, not a reward to be earned but an ever-present reality. There are always decisions to be made, decisions of conscience. Those decisions are to be taken in the presence of Jesus. Our conscience is the central moral organ of the nature God gave us, to guide us in his image. And here, once again, the lectionary reading for today hits the mark. In that passage Jesus ben Sira is really talking about conscience, though his Hebrew tongue didn't yet have a word for it: only 'heart'. I hope you will be able to read this passage again and think about it. 
It is God our creator who shaped our senses 
and gave (us) a heart to think with.
He filled (us) with knowledge and understanding,
and revealed to (us) good and evil. 
He put his own light in (our) hearts
to show (us) the magnificence of his works . . .
He set knowledge before (us),
he endowed (us) with the law of life. 

It is with this divine endowment that we stand before our Lord. May he bless you all. 

Robert Murray, SJ

This article was published in The Journal, 2001, Volume 2.