Who is more important? We compare power and privilege, background, connection, skill and status. Earlier in the chapter for today’s Gospel reading, Jesus’ disciples asked: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”[i] What’s the top which then defines the whole, including us? We wrestle for rank and worry about worth.
Jesus “called a child, whom he put among them, and said ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”[ii] Become like children. Change your perspective. Rather than seeking power, skill, and status, acknowledge your need. Ask for help. Let yourself be helped and held. Relish wonder and love without embarrassment. Experiment, imagine, and playfully discover new ways of being. Gaze, dance, build, and fly. Become like children.
Who is more important? Each one. “Welcome one such child in my name, and you welcome me,” says Jesus. Woe to any who would “put a stumbling block before one of these little ones,” Jesus warns. “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones.”[iii]
God does not want one to be lost. If a shepherd would leave ninety-nine sheep to go find one that went astray, God will much more seek out and save the lost. God seeks, finds, and rejoices in each one. God is generous, inclusive, wildly passionate to save.
I imagine us with those early disciples nodding yes. God is generous even radically. We can acknowledge that truth and appreciate it. Reading this text, I hear a pause and cringe sensing Jesus looking straight into you and me, waiting to see that we get it. Whom does God seek out, find, and rejoice over? Who is a lost sheep? All of us, including you and me. Jesus leaves the ninety-nine for you. Jesus loves you.
More than believing or knowing this wild, passionate truth, Jesus invites us to feel and live it. One way to prepare for Christ coming as a child at Christmas is to pray more as a beloved child, as a little one whom God seeks and delights to find, to hold, to love. As adults, this may be a challenging grace, especially those of us so focused on leading and caring for others. Though it may seem self-centered, this is self-honoring, becoming humble like children in receiving love.
Let me suggest a few ways to pray. Pray with the Good Shepherd and see yourself as a lamb. Read or recite the Psalm 23 slowly. Write or say Psalm 23 in your own words, similarly brief or much longer. What have been green pastures and still waters for you? How has God provided for and restored you? How have you sensed God with you in dark valleys? Pray tonight’s parable of the shepherd leaving ninety-nine in search of the one. What’s your experience of being lost and of being found? Another way is to draw a picture from either of these.
I particularly suggest praying with an image of Jesus and a lamb. This more readily takes us from head to heart. Find an image and spend time gazing at it.[iv] Imagine yourself as the lamb whom Jesus finds, whom Jesus holds. Pay attention to what you feel and what you hear. With this image, speak to Jesus, whatever comes to you. Then take a step further, what does Jesus feel looking at and holding you? Listen to Jesus’ voice.
This can be hard. Be gentle with yourself. Sometimes, including when gazing at a picture of Jesus and a lamb, we see ourselves only as the shepherd, helper, protector, and provider and not as the lamb, the one in need, held, loved. Perhaps because this because of the roles we live, or we don’t feel worthy. Where do you see yourself in the picture? Where is Jesus?
Along with the image or without it, pray with your body through touch and shape. Say “Jesus loves me” while hugging yourself. Remain there. Feel it. Childlike, let Jesus hold you. Images and movement can help break through our adult and word-oriented perception. If tears come, welcome them as a gift.
God does not want a little one to be lost. God searches, finds, rejoices, loves. No matter what you’ve done or not done, where you’re from or what you do, God loves you. No matter your wrongs, your hurts, or how you’ve gone astray, you are fully worthy. God seeks you with love.
God looks at each person this way. Jesus says pay attention to children. Pay attention to those who seem little, last, least, and lost. Pay special attention to these. Who is insignificant to you? Whom have you been overlooking? They, too, are beloved children of God held in love. Pray for them. Reach out, acknowledge, bless, befriend and help those who seem little, last, and lost.
As we prepare for Christmas, reclaim a child’s perspective: we are each like lambs who receive Jesus’ loving embrace. Rest in love, and look out to love others.
[i] Matthew 18:1
[ii] Matthew 18:2-3
[iii] Matthew 18:5-6, 10
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