Year A Proper 6 WEDNESDAY, 17 June 2020
Video service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
Collect: Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling-blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling-block comes!
‘If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.
I have always loved this passage. The images are not just strong, they are stark. They blatantly spell out what we are supposed to do, and what we are not. However, even here, especially here, we see that metaphor rules. Jesus was not about legalism. He paints a picture, but he does not draw a line. When I used to run in more conservative circles, too often I would run into folks who said they took “the word of the Lord literally.” I found it fascinating not of them had one hand, one foot, or one eye. Even they understood metaphor. It was a shame they had a hard time on the stuff he said literally (eg. Love your neighbor.) figuratively, and the stuff he said figuratively (Hate your father and mother…) literally. But none of them in my circles plucked out an eye, or chopped off a hand.
But when it comes to the metaphor of the Child, we see a glimpse into the heart of Jesus.
A story is told of a little boy who did not know any better, but spent his summer teaching himself how to ride his bike along the top of his fence. Every day, every moment he could, he went back and forth, pedaling and balancing, and finally got it down pat. Later in the summer, an adult saw him practicing, and they told the boy, “Hey, don’t you know you cannot ride on top of a fence?!?!” And from that day forward, he never could.
For our Buddhist brothers and sisters, they often speak of how discipleship (our word not theirs) requires the attitude of having a Beginner’s Mind. Shoshin, I trust I am saying that correctly. Whenever one approaches something they wish to learn, there should be an openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions. That makes for a great learner. And remember how this started, the adult question of prestige, honor, and position: “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” That is an ego question. And Ego, whether in Buddhism or Christianity gets in the way. Ego worries about the Finish Line, and being a Winner. The Soul worries about the Journey, and trusting the one guiding the way.
Jesus encourages us to be like children, curious, precocious, proud that we are learning, and not worrying about rank or position. A child knows she is low on the totem pole so she does not even bother with it, if she recognizes it at all. That is why we are encouraged, nee, commanded to come, humble like a child. We are commanded to welcome this humble, child-like, Beginner’s Mind disciples.
And when we welcome these eager learners, we cannot hinder them with Stumbling Blocks. Jesus says Woe to those who do that. Better to drown ourselves (METAPHOR!!!) than to set up Stumbling Blocks.
And finally we get to losing something to gain something better. Jesus makes the image of actually losing something vital for the greater good. As I said, this was metaphorical, and probably hyperbole to boot. But underneath, Jesus is showing us how important, how vital this all is. We are talking about the Kingdom of God! We approach it humbly. We encourage others to be their best! We do not let anything hold us back!
How do we get to be Greatest in the Kingdom? We do not worry about that. We worry about the Kingdom, and let the Kingdom worry about the Greatest. Amen
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