Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.
My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner's soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
Saint James draws a picture of a hope-filled community, whose members are concerned for each other's welfare and pray for one another. He also gives us background for the anointing of the sick by the “elders” (presbyteroi, later called priests), a prayerful ritual of healing for both body and soul, which later generations would variously call Extreme Unction or the Sacrament of the Sick. Interesting too is the advice to “confess your sins to one another,” joined to a prayer for healing. It is not clear that James intends such confession to be made only to presbyters; probably he sees merit simply in the revelation of conscience by one baptized person to another. In later centuries, largely due to the influence of Irish monastic practice, confession became more formalised and was listed among the seven sacraments in the 12th century.
Saint Mark shows how in the mind of Jesus, children have a special place within the family of faith. It is to just such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. From children, adults are asked to learn some key lessons about the kingdom of life and hope, of trust and faith. We must never be too busy or too preoccupied to tend these childhood virtues. The disciples considered Jesus' time and energy too precious to let him be distracted with the children whom people were bringing, wanting him to touch them with his blessing. But Jesus was indignant at the idea of excluding them and. we are told, embraced the children and blessed them, “placing his hands on them.” There is a nice symmetry in the two scenes, suggesting that the elders laying hands on the sick and anointing them is in some way parallel to Jesus embracing the children with his blessing. Clearly we must reach out and touch others in gestures of mercy, for that is Our Lord's way, the relational style of life in the Kingdom of God.
Today's gospel is often read at a child's baptism - which is something deeper than just a naming ceremony. The reference to people bringing children to Jesus in the gospel is reflected in the parents who bring their children for baptism. The contrast between how the disciples reacted to the parents, on the one hand, and how Jesus responded, on the other, is very striking. The disciples wanted to turn the children away, whereas Jesus insisted that the children come to him and that nothing be placed in the way of their coming to him.
Jesus suggests that we should do what we can to bring children to him, and support them in coming to him. He also suggests that apart from teaching them we have a lot to learn from children. We must learn to welcome the kingdom of God as children do. Children are very receptive to gifts, including the gift of the kingdom of God, the gift of the Lord. They are open to that gift; they are very receptive. We can easily lose that receptiveness or openness to the Lord, as we grow older. As adults we have to keep on recovering it, we need to keep learning to become like children so that we can welcome the gift of the Lord as openly as they do.