13 August, 2013. Tuesday of the 19th Week
Deut 31:1ff. As Moses prepares for death, he promises God will lead his people into the promised land.
Mt 18:1-5, 10, 12-14. A little child is the great in the kingdom of God and a lost soul found causes more joy than ninety-nine who never strayed.
First Reading: Deuteronomy 31:1-8
When Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them: “I am now one hundred twenty years old. I am no longer able to get about, and the Lord has told me, ‘You shall not cross over this Jordan.’ The Lord your God himself will cross over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua also will cross over before you, as the Lord promised. The Lord will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when he destroyed them. The Lord will give them over to you and you shall deal with them in full accord with the command that I have given to you. Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.”
Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel: “Be strong and bold, for you are the one who will go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their ancestors to give them; and you will put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”
Gospel: Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He 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. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
“Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.
What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.
Two different forms of leadership can emerge in time of change, one formal and conservative, held by leaders like Joshua, the apostles and bishops; the other more internal, depending on promptings of the Holy Spirit, inspiring courageous initiatives. These leadership styles are not mutually exclusive, and both serve God’s People in quite different ways. The former handles routine matters, is concerned with continuity and uniformity, and is devoted caring for the ninety-nine sheep who are placidly there, thriving in the status quo. The second helps the Church to locate the lost sheep, the elusive ones who stray from the safe, conservative path. There can be more joy over one lost sheep found than over repeated formulae and prosaic ideas.
The stirring homilies in Deuteronomy emerged from times of crisis, calling for renewal. Its theology combines the enthusiasm of love with the routines of daily life, promoting a spirit-guided life, an earthly existence coloured by inspiration. Today’s passage concludes this rich collection of sermons. Deut 32-34 is an appendix, about the blessing of the twelve tribes and the story of Moses’ death. With his passing, Israel must now look more directly for God’s guidance. Crossing the Jordan becomes a symbol for any major change. It calls for trust in God’s presence and his abiding help: “It is the Lord who marches before you; he will be with you and will never fail you or forsake you.”
Today’s gospel takes another slant. The call to become a little child is just as difficult and requires as much steadfast courage as Moses asks of the people. Adults find it hard to take lightly their dignity and ambition, power and influence, to “become like little children.” Jesus is not commending childish irresponsibility but a simplicity beyond our normal range. If we are alert to this, then this one percent of ourselves, this seemingly lost sheep, this child within us, will be found and bring joy and new life to the ninety-nine percent which is the rest of our personality. This recovery of the “little one” is true of each individual and of society and the church as a whole.