Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your ravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, "God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, 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."
The call to welcome Jesus as one would welcome a child rounds off today's gospel. We can find him among the servants and the apparently least important people. Just as children easily find other children and quickly begin enjoy themselves at play, so we ought to gravitate towards the servants and the least. Childhood in this sense is not a matter of age only. A person who is lonely may be someone who also treasures beautiful memories and buried hopes, genuine possibilities, waiting for the healing touch of kindness. To welcome Jesus as a child is to open one's arms to the infinite possibilities that lie before us in life.
In the text from James, we seem to have left the child's world behind. There is talk of “conflicts and disputes,” of “cravings that make war within your members,” of murder and envy. We can find the way towards conversion in the phrase: “God resists the proud but bestows his favour on the lowly.” This is drawn from the Greek version of the Book of Proverbs, 3:34. Oddly, the other quotation “The spirit he has implanted in us tends towards envy” which he presents as Scripture, cannot be found in our extant Bible. Evidently, James is drawing on ancient bits of wisdom circulating in his time, traditions that fill out what has been written down in the Bible. The adult spirit, he says, which tends towards envy, needs to be turned back to the childlike spirit in its innocence and spontaneity. It is often enough a difficult journey for adults to revive the memory and goodness of their childhood. In life's journey if often seems that “laughter is turned into mourning and joy into sorrow.” Yet James ends with the assurance that the Lord “will raise you on high.”
With loving attention the church prepares children for their First Communion and some years later for their Confirmation. In these sacraments we are welcoming them into the church, receiving them into the family of believers. That welcoming children has great value is clear from today's gospel. There Jesus identifies himself very closely with children. He goes so far as to say, “anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Jesus is declaring that in and through our children we encounter Jesus and his Father. Elsewhere Jesus identifies himself with the most vulnerable — the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the imprisoned. Children, by definition, are among the most vulnerable. They are dependant on others for life in all its dimensions. The gospel suggests that ministry to children and to young people, whatever form it takes, is a sacred ministry; it is indeed holy ground. [MH]