Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Little Ones (Reflections on Pentecost 4, Year A)

Showdown between Prophets – Prophets and Monarchs

“…and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

Whenever I’d see my late sister Maryanne’s name come up on my caller ID I’d answer the phone by saying, “Shwmae, Fach!” She’d reply, “Shwmae, Bach!”[i] This salutation roughly translates from the Welsh as “Hello, Little One!”

“Little One?” It’s actually a term of endearment. I call my wife “Little One.” Granted, Marilyn only stands 5’ 1” tall, so, technically, she is pretty little by the standard of our society, but that’s not why I call her that. I call her that out of endearment. Don’t we refer to our kids as “the little ones?” It almost brings a smile to our lips when we think of them like that. Granted, your “Little One” might be 6’4” by now, but he’s always a little one in your heart. The expression implies a sense of delight, but it also makes us feel protective of the one we’re referring to. We cherish our little ones, and so we are always on the lookout for their welfare.

In our Gospel lesson for Pentecost 4 Year A (Matthew 10:40-42), Jesus is referring to us as “the little ones.” That should give you an idea about how he views us. He’s not saying we’re small and weak (although we are!), rather, he’s saying that he cherishes us and he desires we should be kept safe and be loved—just as we desire the same for our “little ones.” He blesses anyone who shows kindness to his little ones, just as we would do to those who act kindly towards the ones we cherish.

So, you may be asking yourself, what’s this got to do with the Hebrew scripture lesson (Jeremiah 28:5-9) which the compilers of the Revised Common Lectionary paired with this Gospel? To be honest, I sometimes wonder what these guys were smoking when they yoked these readings together, but—aside from the reference to prophets in verse 41 of the Gospel text—I think I can see a connection.

First, let me set the scene of the reading from Jeremiah. This takes place after Judah has been pretty badly whooped by the Babylonians.[ii] The Babylonians have thrashed them militarily, looted Solomon’s temple, and carried off a number of hostages. Two prophets are in the temple in front of a packed house of priests and others having a debate about what the next course of action should be following this crisis. Do they submit to the Babylonians, or do they resist as they have been doing? Jeremiah, having a flair for the dramatic, shows up wearing a wooden slave’s yoke on his shoulders. He’s trying to demonstrate that Judah is already a vassal to Babylon, and that the best possible course to take is to choke down their pride, suck it up, and surrender before more people get killed and everything turns to crap.

Not to be outdone in the showmanship department, Jeremiah’s adversary, Hananiah, takes the yoke from ol’ Jerry’s shoulders and smashes it, graphically demonstrating his belief that God loves Judah better than God loves Babylon, and that everything is going to be groovy. The crisis is a hoax. God will just fix everything, and there’s no need to change the course the country is already on. Jeremiah responds saying he certainly wishes Hananiah is right, but if he isn’t, Judah is going to be in a world of hurt, more people will die, and God will not be happy. The priests and the rulers—believing the prophecy they want to believe—side with Hananiah. The result is more bloodshed and the total destruction of all of Jerusalem. God strikes Hananiah dead, which, considering how bad things got, was probably doing him a favor.[iii]

So what’s the take-away? We have a responsibility to the little ones. To the young, the aged, the sick, the stranger, the helpless, the oppressed. It might be inconvenient. It might require we face some unpleasant truths, but it is what God asks of us. Right now, we modify our worship, we sacrifice our ritual, we wear masks, we social distance. We don’t like it, but we do it to cherish and protect the little ones. I don’t believe God sends us crises—human beings are good at creating them all by ourselves. Nevertheless, God always uses situations like the present to teach us how to love one another the way God loves us.

Try this: Start by identifying yourself as God’s “Little One.”  Take some time to think God is smiling on you with loving delight and desires you to be loved and protected and cherished and aided by the folks around you. Take some time just to let God love you as you love your own “little ones.” If you can see yourself in this light, perhaps you can say to others, “You are God’s Little One!” Perhaps you’ll view your family members, your friends, strangers, and even the folks who irritate you in a new and gentler way. Perhaps this will guide your heart to a new openness which will allow the love of Christ to come flooding in. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful reward?

God bless you, Little One. Thanks for reading!

[i] Both of these greetings mean the same thing. The mutation of an F to a B is because of grammatical gender in the Welsh language.
[ii] This is around 598-597 BCE for you history buffs.
[iii] I could probably make a comparison with this story to our Administration’s negligent approach to the COVID-19 crisis, global climate change, poverty, the Black Lives Matter movement, etc., but I’ll let you do the math. I wouldn’t want to offend anybody, would I?

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