Word of Life – August 2021

‘Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matt. 18:4)

Who is the greatest: who is the most powerful?  Who is the ‘winner’ in society, in the Church, in politics or in the world of finance?

This question runs through relationships, it guides choices and determines strategies. It is the dominant logic to which we may inadvertently resort when trying to ensure positive and efficient outcomes for those around us.

Here the Gospel of Matthew presents us with Jesus’ disciples. They have accepted the announcement of the kingdom of heaven and want to know its requirements if they are to be protagonists in the new people of God: ‘Who is the greatest?’

In response, Jesus makes one of his unpredictable gestures: he places a child in the centre of the small crowd. And he accompanies this gesture with unequivocal words:

Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus contrasts a competitive and self-sufficient mentality with the weakest and most vulnerable element in society – the one who has no role to boast about or defend.  This person is totally dependent and spontaneously relies on the help of others. However, this is not an invitation to be passive or to avoid proactive and responsible behaviour; it is a freely taken act of will. Jesus invites us to ‘become small’, like children and this requires intent and commitment from us if we are to make a decisive change.

Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

This is how Focolare founder, Chiara Lubich, describes a child of the Gospel: ‘…the child trustingly abandons themself to their father and mother: they believe in their love. … Authentic Christians, like children, believe in God’s love and abandon themselves into the arms of their heavenly Father, placing unfailing trust in him. … Children depend on their parents for everything … We too, “children of the Gospel”, depend on the Father for everything: … he knows what we need, even before we ask him, and he gives it to us. The kingdom of God is not a reality to conquer and win but a gift to be received from the hands of the Father.’

Chiara emphasises how children entrust themselves totally to their parents and they learn everything from them. In the same way: ‘The “evangelical child” puts everything in God’s mercy and, forgetting the past, begins a new life every day which is open to the promptings of the Spirit and is always creative. Children cannot learn to speak on their own, they need someone to teach them. The disciple of Jesus … learns everything from the Word of God to the point of speaking and living according to the Gospel.’

Children tend to imitate their parents. ‘So, the child of the Gospel … loves everyone because the Father “makes his sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes it rain on the just and on the unjust.” This child is the first to love because the Father loved us when we were still sinners; the child loves gratuitously, without self interest because that is what the heavenly Father does.’

Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

In Colombia, Vicente and his family experienced the challenges of the pandemic, u during a very strict quarantine regime. He writes: ‘When the curfew started, daily life changed abruptly. My wife and two older children had to prepare for some university exams; the youngest could not get used to the online classes. No one in the house had time to take care of anyone else. This chaos was on the verge of exploding when I realised it was an opportunity to embody the art of loving in our “new life” according to the Gospel. I set about tidying the kitchen, preparing food and organising meals. I am not an experienced cook, nor precise in my cleaning, but I realised that this would help to reduce the tensions of everyday life. What started out as an act of love for one day multiplied over several months. Other members of the family began to do the cleaning, tidying and putting things away whenever they finished their work. Together we saw that the words of the Gospel are true, and that creative love suggests how to put everything else in order.’

Letizia Magri