No matter how you look at it Christianity is a topsy-turvy way of looking at the values of life. It’s like choosing bread rather than cake, straw rather than gold, death rather than life. There is a divine irony in Christianity, which is easy to miss, and it was a lesson Our Lord’s first disciples had to learn.
In today’s gospel the disciples can be seen as typical human beings. Ambition, like a deadly leech, has taken hold of them. On their way to Capernaum they had been arguing about which of them was the most important. Each one wanted to be pick-of-the-bunch because they thought Our Lord was going to establish a worldly kingdom in which they would be bathed in luxuries as were the Romans who were occupying their land. And yet Our Lord had just warned them that he would be arrested and put to death, but clearly the message hadn’t sunk in.
Then Our Lord tried to make the message more explicit: “If anyone wishes to be first, he must remain the last of all and the servant of all.” He then exemplified his lesson by embracing the child, an action which, it seems once again, is entirely lost on the disciples. In first century Palestine a child held no rights, a child was to be seen and not heard. And so to welcome a child in this context meant to become an equal, to be like him in humility and simplicity. Saint James learned the lesson, for his advice was: “Be humbled in the sight of the Lord and he will raise you on high.”
Christianity is a whole new set of values. The simplicity of bread, and not the elegance of cake, is what is transformed into the Body of Christ. Humility is the way to find favour with God. And death to sin, rather than a clutching to selfishness, is the way to eternal life.