Thursday - Ordinary Time
1) Opening prayer
you show your almighty power
in your mercy and forgiveness.
Continue to fill us with your gifts of love.
Help us to hurry towards the eternal life your promise
and come to share in the joys of your kingdom.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 18,1-5.10
At this time the disciples came to Jesus and said, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?'
So he called a little child to him whom he set among them. Then he said, 'In truth I tell you, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven. And so, the one who makes himself as little as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven. 'Anyone who welcomes one little child like this in my name welcomes me.
'See that you never despise any of these little ones, for I tell you that therein heaven are continually in the presence of my Father in heaven.
● Today's Gospel presents a text taken from the Discourse of the Community (Mt 18,1-35), in which Matthew gathers together some phrases of Jesus to help the communities of the first century to overcome the two problems which they had to face at that moment: the leaving or going away of the little ones because of the scandal caused by some (Mt 18, 1-14) and the need of dialogue to overcome the internal conflicts (Mt 18, 15-35). The discourse of the Community treats of several themes: the exercise of power in the community (Mt 18, 1-4), the scandal that excludes the little ones (Mt 18, 5-11), the obligation to struggle to bring back the little ones, for their return (Mt 18, 12-14), fraternal correction (Mt 18, 15-18), prayer (Mt 18, 19-20) and pardon (Mt 18, 21-35). The accent is placed on acceptance and on reconciliation, because the basis of fraternity is the gratuitous love of God which accepts us and forgives us. It is only in this way that the community will be a sign of the Kingdom.
● In today's Gospel we meditate on the part that speaks about the acceptance of the little ones. The expression, the little ones, or the least does not only refer to children, but rather to persons who are not important in society, including children. Jesus asks that the little ones be at the centre of the concern of the community, because "The Father does not want any of these little ones to be lost" (Mt 18, 14).
● Matthew 18, 1: The question of the disciples which results in the teaching of Jesus. The discip0les want to know who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. The simple fact of asking this question indicates that they have not understood well the message of Jesus. The response of Jesus, that is, the whole discourse of the Community, serves to make us understand that among the followers of Jesus the spirit of service, of dedication of pardon, of reconciliation and of gratuitous love, without seeking one's own interest, have to be a priority.
● Matthew 18, 2-5: the fundamental criterion; the one who makes himself as little as this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. "Then Jesus called to himself a child and placed him in the middle"; the disciples want a criterion so as to be able to measure the importance of persons in the community. Jesus responds that the criterion is the little ones! Children are not important in society; they do not belong to the world of the great. The disciples, instead of growing towards the heights and toward the centre, should grow down and toward the periphery! In this way they will be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven! And the reason for this is the following: "anyone who welcomes one little child like this, in my name, welcomes me!" The love of Jesus for the little ones cannot be explained. The children have no merit; they are loved by their parents and by all because they are children. This is a pure gratuitous love of God which is manifested here and which can be imitated in the community of those who believe in Jesus.
● Matthew 18, 6-9: Do not scandalize the little ones. The Gospel today omits verses 6 to 9 and continues in verse 10. We give a brief key for the reading of these verses, from 6 to 9. To scandalize the little ones means: to be for them a reason for the loss of faith in God and of the abandonment from the community. The excessive insistence on the norms and on the observance, as some Pharisees did, caused the little ones to go away, because they no longer found the liberty that Jesus had brought. Before this, Matthew keeps very strong phrases of Jesus, such as the one of the mill stone put around the neck, and the other one, "Alas for those who cause scandal!" This is a sign that at that time the little ones no longer identified themselves with the community and looked for another refuge. And today? In Brazil alone, every year, approximately one million persons abandon the historical churches and go to the Pentecostal ones. And these are the poor who do this. They leave because the poor and the little ones do not feel at home in their house! Which is the reason? To avoid this scandal, Jesus orders to cut the foot or the hand and take out the eye. These affirmations of Jesus cannot be taken literally. They mean that it is necessary to be very demanding in the struggle against scandal which drives away the little ones. We cannot, in any way, allow that the little ones feel marginalized in our community; because in this case, the community would not be a sign of the Kingdom of God. It would not belong to Jesus Christ. It would not be Christian.
● Matthew 18, 10: The angels of the little ones are always in the presence of the Father. "See that you never despise any of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in Heaven are continually in the presence of my Father in Heaven". Today, sometimes we hear the question, "But, do the angels exist or not? Perhaps they are an element of the Persian culture, where the Jews lived for long centuries during the exile of Babylonia? It is possible. But this is not the important thing, this is not the principal aspect. In the Bible the angel has a different significance. There are texts which speak about the Angel of Yahweh or of the Angel of God and then suddenly they speak of God. They exchange one for the other (Gen 18, 1-2. 22.214.171.124: cf. Gen 13, 3.18). In the Bible the Angel is the face of Yahweh turned toward us. The face of God turned toward me, toward you! It is the expression of the most profound conviction of our faith, that is, that God is with us, with me, always! It is a way of making God's love concrete in our life, even up to the smallest detail.
4) Personal questions
● Are the little ones accepted in our community? Do the poorest people participate in our community?
● The angels of God, the Guardian Angel, many times the Angel of God is the person who helps another person. Are there many angels in your life?
5) Concluding prayer
Lord, you created my inmost self,
knit me together in my mother's womb.
For so many marvels I thank you;
a wonder am I,
and all your works are wonders. (Ps 139,13-14)