13 People were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them. But the disciples scolded them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he grew angry and said to them, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. 15 I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” 16 Then he hugged the children and blessed them.
Jesus inviting children to come to him spoke volumes to the adults who were bringing their children for a blessing, a traditional Jewish act. What’s important to realize is that first-century culture did not value children. “Children, along with women, old men, and slaves, were viewed as physically weak burdens on society who had little value to the wider life of the community.”* Jesus consistently used words that uplifted the marginalized and corrected those who thought too highly of themselves.
Lord Jesus, you chose to offer blessings with your words, particularly to those who most needed caring and appreciation. Teach me how to choose to do the same. Amen.
* From https://www.christianity.com.
When I was a little girl, my father would often do the “Children’s Sermon” at church. Typically a simple object lesson, the children’s sermon was meant to impart some small piece of wisdom and guidance to the little ones as they gathered on the steps of the chancel, even though most of them were just barely paying attention until the Starbursts were distributed.
I was proud whenever my dad did the children’s sermon. Honestly, I was personally invested. Little Lindsey saw herself as a co-presenter. So much so that (as the family legend goes) after one particular message was over, I grabbed the microphone from my father and loudly announced: “THANK YOU FOR COMING TO MY CHILDREN’S SERMON!”
That children’s sermon was one involving a tube of toothpaste. It was meant to help us learn to think before speaking. You’ve probably seen this one before - one of the kids was encouraged to squeeze all of the toothpaste out of the tube and on to a paper plate as fast as they could. So much fun, right? But then, once they were finished, they were asked to put all the toothpaste back in the tube. An impossible task. Once you get the toothpaste out, you can't get it back in.
“It's just like hurtful words,” my dad explained. “If you say something hurtful to someone, it comes out of your mouth and you can't put it back in. We can apologize if we say something mean, but the best thing is to not let hurtful words leave our mouths in the first place.”
It’s a lovely sentiment, but it doesn’t prepare you for what happens in the real world. It is only half the of story. What do you do when your plate becomes a receptacle for the pain of other people? When other people’s words ooze out, intentionally or unintentionally, and wound you deeply? You can’t put it back in.
Words like –
You’re not the brightest crayon in the box, are you?
We don’t want you here.
You’re just not a good fit for the role.
I don’t love you anymore.
You are crazy.
I can’t believe you could be so stupid.
What do we do with all those awful toothpastey words? Do we take them to heart? Believe the lie that we are too much, too stupid, or not worthy of love? Or worse, do we take the painful words that were inflicted on us and inflict them on others?
As Father Richard Rohr puts it – “If we cannot find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, we invariably become cynical, negative, or bitter. . . If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it—usually to those closest to us: our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, and, invariably, the most vulnerable, our children.”
Did you know that toothpaste is a pretty good polishing agent? Because it is abrasive, it can actually shine tarnished silver. I keep asking myself - What can I do with painful words? With this mess of gooey toothpaste on my metaphorical plate? And the answer is on the cross.
We accept the abrasiveness of the pain, holding it, learning from it and letting it go. Not taking it out on others through our words. We combine it with Christ’s call to compassion and blessing, and in this way we transform ourselves. Our wounds become like sacred wounds, our suffering becomes connected to the suffering of Jesus on the cross. And out of our mouths come sweet words of blessing and welcome.
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