I found out last week that the father of our baptismal candidate is a Red Sox fan, and despite that sad fact, I decided to go ahead with the baptism of little Juliana Rose Cartwright. I mentioned at that time that I was going to place special intentions on last weekends Masses for the Tampa Bay Rays, but decided not to, and if you follow baseball you know how that worked out: The Sox swept the Rays, in fact they made them look silly. The Red Sox play a series against the Yankees starting Friday, so at least the remembrance of Juliana’s baptism will give Ian something to be happy about next weekend. Hopefully there’s not much for the Sox to look forward to.
Jesus didn’t have much to look forward to in this weeks Gospel lesson from St. Mark. Jesus was, as we would say, in a bad place, He had glimpsed His future and His future was mixed, to say the least. “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him,” Jesus said, talking about Himself, “and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” Now imagine I came up to you and said, “Your priest is to be tried, deposed, and burned alive, but after a while, he will come back to you and say Mass.” You might think I had gone a little around the bend, you might not understand what I was trying to tell you, and most likely, you would walk away, afraid to ask for any clarification. The Disciples were no different, they didn’t know what to make of these words of Jesus, this apparent non-sequitur uttered on the road. They ignored it.
Instead, they talked amongst themselves about themselves. Who was the greatest amongst them? Who was the one who would be Jesus’ right hand man when the coup was complete, who would be the one who had the ear and the favor of their Master? The Disciples talked about this even after Jesus had told them He was to suffer and die. Think about it. Jesus confided in the twelve people He hung out with, taught, was fully Master of, and they ignored it. We forget that Jesus could be hurt emotionally; we remember His physical wounds, He had five of them: One in each hand and foot, one on the side, and these are remembered just as physically in the five marble inlaid crosses that mark the top of all three of our altars here at Christ Church; but Jesus was a Man, capable of being hurt, capable of being heartbroken. And so He was at this point in His life with His disciples. But still, the Disciples talked about their own imagined futures instead of their Master’s sure and certain future.
And so Jesus asked them about it, He asked them what they were arguing about. They had the good sense not to tell Him, the Disciples at least knew enough not to tell Jesus that they were sorting out for Him who would be the greatest in His court. So Jesus, confronted by this silence, sat down, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Alright. What? A little child? We are about to celebrate the baptism of a little child; we celebrate her new birth, the new life given to her by the Holy Ghost through the Church, but we also celebrate just the fact that she is a little child, we like that she is a little person, we celebrate not only her beauty but her humility, her inability to make it on her own, her, well, uselessness. She is wonderful and lovely, precisely because she is who she is, because she is. The ancient world was not so kind to children. Infant mortality rates in Jesus’ time would make us wince; scores of women died in childbirth along with their babies. Children were not celebrated for their uselessness, they were, in fact, just useless. They ate and drank and needed clothing and medicine, you needed to pay the schoolmaster for what little education they could receive, they weren’t strong enough or durable enough to do any real work for the first dozen years of their lives. They were holes in the ground that gobbled up time and money, and were treated as such. But then Jesus took a child into His arms, and said the weirdest thing.
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” “The Greek word used there—dexomai, for welcome—carries with it the sense not only of some generic welcome but of a literal receiving of someone into one’s arms. The picture we should have in our heads is not of someone in an airport quietly holding up a little “Welcome Home” sign on a piece of paper, but of the parent or grandparent down on her knees, arms splayed wide open and just waiting” for their child to come running down the ramp into those waiting arms. Jesus told us that in taking a little one into our arms, in taking the young, the broken, the weak, the oppressed, the poor destitute, in taking anyone into our arms who is weaker in body or spirit than ourselves, we take Him, we take Jesus Himself, into our arms, and not just Jesus, but the One who sent Him: we take the God whom the whole universe cannot contain into our arms.
And so it is that in a few moments, standing in for Jesus and for His whole Church, I will take Juliana Rose into my arms and baptize her in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Everyone in this place will pledge to take her into their arms, to show her what the love of God looks and feels like, to show her that in baptism she has become as infinitely precious to us as she is to the God who knew her name before she was even conceived. In showing her that kind of love, in showing her how Christians receive Christ and each other, we show her how God Himself receives the young, the broken, the weak, the oppressed, and the poor, and we teach her, we teach her by word and example that when she is strong in body and in spirit, we teach her to do the same. May Juliana come to know these mysteries of God; may she hope for the wages of such righteousness and receive the reward of a blameless soul.