This featured cartoon clipping reminds me that in Mark’s Gospel he paints a picture of the disciples as thick and slow on the uptake.
Family is one of the models that describes a church community. But there are differing interpretations of family – family, where the emphasis is on exclusion and exclusivity might not be the most helpful way of thinking about faith community. The best model of family for faith community life is that of family as an extended, multigenerational community.
Sunday is another baptism Sunday at St Martin’s. We have had two wonderful extended family baptisms over the summer in which we celebrated brothers, sisters, and cousins, all part of multigenerational extended families being baptized together. For us, this was a multigenerational celebration involving children raised in the St. Martin’s community bringing their own children back to the church community they continue to identify with their earlier family life.
The children of the boomer generation of parents at St. Martin’s – millennials and after – although having been raised in the church do not by-and-large continue the church going practices of their parents, that is, until they begin having children of their own. It’s not true in all cases but it seems still common enough to be able to say that having children focuses the mind on the need to participate in a broader experience of community. The key question for many of us is: what kind of community do we desire to participate in?
On Sunday we will baptize two children who are part of a different version of extended family. Extended family has tended to refer to multigenerational family – usually three if not four generations of family members. On Sunday we will welcome another form of extended family, not one ranging across the generations, but one that brings together in the bonds of love and friendship members of what is sometimes referred to as a blended or modern family – a term made popular by the TV program Modern Family.
So to continue the TV tone – previously in chapter 9 of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus, while making a point about the vanity of masculine ideas of greatness and competitiveness raised up a toddler in his arms and said:
see this child, see her vulnerability, innocence and delight in all she sees around her; this is what it means to welcome me and the kingdom of God.
In todays episode John, speaking for the other disciples says:
Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and tried to stop him, because he was not following us.
Once again, the disciples are consumed with anxiety about power – who has it and can exercise it and who should not have it and must be prohibited from exercising it. In the OT reading we heard of a similar situation concerning Moses and the ancient Israelites. Moses exclaimed: would that all the Lord’s people were prophets. In similar vein Jesus simply says: who is not against us is for us. Our tribal politicians like to upend Jesus’ words quoting them as: who is not for us is against us, which is the very opposite of Jesus meaning.
Returning to the child in his arms Jesus tells them:
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 hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.
Mark paints a picture of the disciples as thick and slow on the uptake. So Jesus takes to driving his point home through the thick skulls by means of hyperbole or exaggeration.
If you hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; if you eye causes you to stumble, tear it out! My, this is pretty graphic imagery, yet what is the point Jesus is trying to impress on his disciples?
His meaning is rather graphic, but clear. Pay attention to the child in your midst. The image of what it looks like to enter the kingdom, or put another way, to become an agent of making the kingdom a reality in real time is represented by the innocence of the child.
In 1st-century society the value of women lay in the control of what today we refer to as women’s reproductive rights by powerful fathers and husbands. The value of children lay in their potential as heirs. But as human individuals a woman or a child was consigned to the bottom of the patriarchal pecking order.
Immersing ourselves in Mark’s narrative flow in chapter 9 reminds us that despite huge gains made in the emancipation of women, and new legal privileging of children rights, we continue to struggle against male privilege that perpetuates the culture of abuse for many women and children.
Today we are awakening to a tidal wave of repentance for the way our society has been deaf to the voice of the child. More shockingly, it has been in the church where the voice of the child has been most silenced by a culture of male privilege and power. In the male dominated values of our institutional life – the protection of the institution always comes before the defense and protection of those most vulnerable to abuse in and by those institutions.
Among the vulnerable, it’s children who fare the worst. The Catholic Church is struggling to grapple with the costs of a system that holds up men with arrested psychosexual development as the model of the priestly ideal. By costs, I am not referring to the staggering financial settlements but to the lifelong cost paid by children’s pain and suffering.
The goal of the Christian life is not to make sure we go to heaven when we die. The goal of the Christian life is to make heaven a reality on earth, in real time, here and now, before we die. Christians have always worked towards that end by participating in a community life where together we can achieve so much more than we ever can as isolated individuals.
Baptism is a second birth or spiritual birth through which we come to belong. For from belonging, comes believing.
But baptism is not an act of magical transformation. As a stand-alone event, it functions as an initial entry point only. But what really matters is what happens after baptism, i.e. how the baptismal promises are fulfilled by the baptized person, over time.
Paraphrasing our promises in the Baptismal Covenant, we promise:
- to be faithful in prayer and be present when the community gathers to worship at the celebration of the Lord’s table.
- to persevere and not let our failures shame us erecting a barrier between us and God.
- to live the Good News of God in Christ, so that others will look at us and say: I want to live with that kind of joy and energy!
- to fight against the systems that perpetuate injustices of all kinds and let respect for each human being be our guide to holy living.
If it takes a village to raise a child, the nurturing and flourishing of a soul requires a whole community of soul friends to support it so that nurtured by love, and shaped by example, the young soul will grow into the fullest person God is already dreaming into becoming.