YOUNG ENOUGH TO BE PART OF THE KINGDOM
Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time(B)
October 4, 2009
There is something disarmingly real, authentic and genuine in children that one is hard pressed to find among adults. Children are naturally loyal, dedicated and committed to their caregivers. Watch a toddler and his unalloyed attachment to his mother or his primary caregiver. Children value relationships. They prize their belongingness to a family. And they make no secret about such healthy attachment to a family system. Ordinarily, for the normal child, the family is a matter of pride for him or her.
Adults on the other hand, may be far less spontaneous and straightforward about where their real sympathies and concerns lie. Having learned with the passage of time to dissimulate, to manipulate, and to capitulate to some internal or external pressures, adults may value themselves more than they value the collectivity, the family, the community, the nation, or the world community at large.
Adults can become selfish, self-centered and manipulative. The growing and not waning popularity of chinovelas, koreanovelas, and telenovelas, whether imported or home-grown, is clear proof of this. Broken relationships, infidelity, broken promises and scheming plans that individuals resort to in order outdo one another, constitute as an inexhaustible source of grist for the soap-opera mill that keeps the two major rival TV networks in the Philippines in lucrative business – and in cutthroat competition. Try looking for just one soap opera that does not capitalize on such basic themes as family relationships, interpersonal intimacy, the characters’ capacity (or its opposite) for fidelity, commitment and dedication to persons and sublime causes, and I am pretty sure one will find it difficult to find one. All stories revolve around issues of human relationality and the search for authenticity and meaningfulness in relationships in all aspects and levels of our personal and societal lives.
Today’s liturgy and the readings it offers ought not to be reduced to the usual narrow issue of divorce, as most preachers would most likely delve on today. I would rather approach this Sunday’s reflection from the point of view of something broader, something more foundational, something which adults can very well pick from children’s examples. A child, after all, was used by Jesus himself to illustrate something very important for adults like us to learn. To such children as these, Jesus reminds us, the Kingdom of God belongs.
Let us unpack this a little bit more. Children teach us unalloyed attachment and fidelity, as we said above. Relationship, for them, is not something they walk in and out of. They are born in the context of a family relationship, and that solid family relationship can only come from parents who have modeled for them what a lifetime relationship ought to be – a bond so strong and intimate … “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” … “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.” But it is adults who walk in and deliberately walk out of each other’s lives. It is adults who can decide to close one’s self in, and fence others out. It is adults who can have enough guts to cut others off from one’s life path.
It is time we reversed the pattern, as Jesus did. In the context of a thorny discussion on the matter of divorce, Jesus quotes the same Genesis passage quoted in the first reading and adds: “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” Interestingly enough, the evangelist Mark follows this up with a passage about children being brought up to him to be blessed. Some adults in his midst including his disciples rebuked the children. But Jesus “became indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’”
When it comes to human relationships, the passage seems to be telling us, we cannot delve on it deeply enough without touching on what children and their innate attitudes and basic openness to others can teach us adults. The question for now is not whether we are adult enough to remain faithful and committed to each other in whatever relationships or lifetime commitments we are involved in. The question is whether we have what it takes to remain in such commitment.
Jesus shows us an example of who or what type of persons have what it takes – children. It is children who are openly accepting of the kingdom, who are open fully to the demands of a committed relationship, who are loyal and who genuinely prize the value of dedicated and committed relationships, who ought to model for adults the beauty and the full meaning of a lifetime relationship such as marriage and relationship in the context of family life.
Contrast this to what is represented by the prevailing culture, particularly of the mass media. People enter into loose partnerships, and not necessarily deep and lasting relationships. Partnerships have to do primarily with security and material well-being; relationships have to do more with interpersonal growth and mutual enrichment. Partnerships, at bottom, cater to the one’s personal needs; relationships foster mutual transcendence that goes far beyond personal needs. Relationships foster the other’s growth and fulfillment. And since the focus is more on the other and the growth of the mutual relationship, a deep and lasting commitment such as married life calls for traits and characteristics that are modeled by children whose dedication, commitment and healthy attachment to their families are non pareil!
Today’s liturgy, therefore, is a telling lesson not only on marital fidelity, dedication and commitment, but also on family cohesion, unity and family intimacy and relationships. Families, not merely couples, are called to unity and lasting intimacy. At a time when a multiplicity of challenges beset family integrity and unity all over the world, when the prevailing popular culture speaks of facility in terms of moving in and out of temporary “family clusters,” when distinct and disparate families can easily “blend” together and create new “fusions” and “alliances” based more on material well-being and security rather than committed love, today’s liturgy and readings would have us cast a long look at children and what they can teach us sophisticated adults. It is time couples became a lot less focused on themselves and their mutual relationships. It is high time they looked a little more on children, not so much in terms of these children’s needs, but in terms of what they can teach the very same couples and adults in general. Children, who are basically and fundamentally open to lasting relationships, who are naturally and innately receptive to issues of fidelity, unity, trust, commitment, attachment and dedication, are those indeed, to whom the Kingdom belongs. For the Kingdom of God is basically togetherness of disparate and distinct persons into one community, which God in Jesus His Son and our Savior, has come to gather all of us into. In a very real sense, children are those who are deeply open to belongingness, to family togetherness, to community. They are thus, young enough to be part of the kingdom of God! And adults like us had better be like them and accept them if we want to be part of the kingdom.