He was one of the gentlest and kindest men that I have ever had the good fortune to meet. But after four years of high school, there were still a few classmates of mine who did not know his name, or if they knew his name, they knew very little else about him. I thought that tragic. First and foremost, because Gerry Sommers was simply a good and holy man. And you can never know enough of these kind of people in your life. There is something about their lives and holiness that calls you to be a better human being. But more so, a few classmates and I thought that if we were ever named the rector of the seminary, (or heaven help the church, a bishop) one of the last tests that we would give the prospective ordination class would be this. “Take out a sheet of paper and list the names of all of the secretaries, custodians and staff people who work at Kenrick-Glennon seminary.” And if you could not list more than three fourths of them, you would have to wait another year to be ordained.
How we treat people with little social power says a great deal about who we are and what our view of the world is. Is it all about us, and what people can do for us, or do we really value the people around us for who they are? As an aside, for those still unmarried among us, it is a great ‘reality check’ on the relationship. Observe the next time out how the person you are dating treats the waitress or busboy at the restaurant, or the homeless person on the street. (even better, observe how you treat them.) For you can be confident that those behaviors will spill over to your relationship.
In today’s gospel, Jesus takes a child, embraces it and places it in their midst saying: “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.” Interesting and telling, the use of the word “It” to describe a human being. There is a reason for this translation. The temptation in our culture is to use children as metaphors, either for being childish – petty and immature, or for being childlike – filled with wonder and innocence. That is not what Jesus meant in this action trying to help the disciples understand the second prediction of his passion.
In the cultural world of Jesus, children were ‘non-persons’ – ‘its’ – with no legal rights, no social status, no inherent dignity. To ‘receive a child with the dignity and value of the Lord himself’ is a profound, almost shocking demand by our savior. And putting that ‘it’ right in the middle of the disciples would have been a brilliant way to teach the disciple precisely what His upcoming passion would mean – that EVERY person, EVERY child, EVERY human being on this planet has inestimable value, because our Lord gave his life for EACH one of them. And if our treatment of each person we meet, regardless of status or profession or social class, doesn’t mirror that truth, then we fail the discipleship test.
This week, take the Gerry Sommers test of discipleship. Observe yourself as you interact with the people in your world, especially those who do the less glamorous kind of tasks. Do your actions toward the person in the check out lane of the store, the maintenance man at work, the clerk at the gas-mart show you to be a disciple after the heart of Jesus, or one who is still striving ‘become the greatest’. Does my treatment of the least and last and lost among us mirror the truth that our Lord suffered his passion for them as well as for me? Or do I need to spend some more time asking for a grateful, humble heart to recognize the infinite value of each person?
What was the name of the waitress at that last restaurant?