Surprise!

The readings for today are: Psalm 98; Zephaniah 3.1–13; Matthew 18.1–20.

In many of the Old Testament readings, including today’s, we hear the longings of a people in need and the promises of a God who responds. Sometimes the longings are those of a people at war, or in exile, or dominated or occupied by other more powerful nations. Sometimes these longings involve a wish for judgement or vengeance against the oppressors but always there is longing for justice and peace. Sometimes the hope is expressed that God will raise up a great deliverer or messiah to crush the opposition and enforce a reign of peace.

The Gospels tell the story of the coming of a deliverer who fulfills, yet transforms, these longings. In his surprising message, the greatest is not the strongest, mightiest, most-violent or proud.

Jesus 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.’

The deliverer too was a little child, born in Bethlehem. He would grow to be a humble teacher whose greatest act would be to lay down his life, and to take it up again in resurrection victory over death.

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