Saint Maximilian Kolbe is a tremendous example of how God’s grace can move us to acts of love for our brothers. With all the extraordinary things Fr. Kolbe did during his life – his extraordinary leadership, the extraordinary impact he had on the Catholic world in a terrible moment of persecution, spreading the devotion to the Immaculata, etc – he was still able to see the true value of his life. He did not consider himself more important or more deserving to remain alive than any of the other prisoners in Auschwitz. With all the wonderful things he had accomplished, and all the wonderful works he could still do for the Lord, God’s grace permitted him to see that the ultimate value of his life was only to be found in laying it down for someone else.
Today’s Gospel has Jesus teaching His disciples about greatness in the kingdom of heaven. A child is certainly not an important person by the world’s standards. They are not someone who has accomplished anything in particular in their lives. At best we could say that a child represents a great deal of potential for life, simplicity, innocence, and openness. I’m sure that the child was just as surprised as the disciples that he was being given as the example of Kingdom greatness. Becoming great in the kingdom has nothing at all to do with doing great things – even though we most certainly can, as fr. Kolbe himself did. Becoming great in the kingdom requires us to take the counterintuitive and inverse path. A child is great because of what he is, not because of what he does. A child of God, who understands that his humble relationship with his God is his true greatness, will live out holiness in this life and greatness in the life to come.
If God were to stand up as the avenger of sin, the church would lose many of its saints and certainly would be deprived of the apostle Paul.1
I take it to be similar in the case of the book mentioned by Ezekiel, in which had been written lamentation, mourning and woe. The whole book contains the “woe” of those perishing, and the “mourning” of those being saved and the “lamentation” of those in between. John, too, who eats one roll on which there is writing on the back and the front, considered the whole Scripture as one book, which is thought to be sweet at the start, when one chews it, but bitter in the perception of each of those who come to know it.2
GREGORY THE GREAT:
Let not the multitude of our wounds reduce us to desperation, because the power of the healer is greater than the magnitude of our feebleness.3
GREGORY THE GREAT:
In saying that without holy Scripture we shall be exhausted by hunger and thirst, he shows that its words are our food and drink. But it must be observed that they are sometimes food, sometimes drink. For in more obscure matters that cannot be comprehended unless they are explained, holy Scripture is our food, because whatever is expounded that it may be understood is as if chewed that it may be swallowed. But in plainer sayings it is drink. For we do not swallow drink by chewing. Therefore we drink plainer statutes because we attempt to understand them without exposition.4
We must seek for reasons for individual sayings and actions of the Lord. After the coin was found, after the tribute paid, what do the apostles’ sudden questions mean? Why precisely “at that time” did the disciples come to Jesus saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Because they had seen that the same tax had been paid for both Peter and the Lord. From the equal price they inferred that Peter may have been set over all the other apostles, since Peter had been compared with the Lord in the paying of the tax. So they ask who is greater in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus, seeing their thoughts and understanding the causes of their error, wants to heal their desire for glory with a struggle for humility.5
Beside this obvious explanation let another be given as well. As an act of theological and ethical reflection, let us ask what sort of a child Jesus called to him and has set in the midst of the disciples. Think of it this way: The child called by Jesus is the Holy Spirit, who humbled himself. He was called by the Savior and set in the middle of the disciples of Jesus. The Lord wants us, ignoring all the rest, to turn to the examples given by the Holy Spirit, so that we become like the children—that is, the disciples—who were themselves converted and made like the Holy Spirit. God gave these children to the Savior according to what we read in Isaiah: “Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me.” To enter the kingdom of heaven is not possible for the person who has not turned from worldly matters and become like those children who had the Holy Spirit. Jesus called this Holy Spirit to him like a child, when he came down from his perfect completeness to people, and set it in the middle of the disciples.6
HILARY OF POITIERS:
The Lord teaches that we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven unless we revert to the nature of children, that is, we must recall into the simplicity of children the vices of the body and mind. He has called children all who believe through the faith of listening. For children follow their father, love their mother, do not know how to wish ill on their neighbor, show no concern for wealth, are not proud, do not hate, do not lie, believe what has been said and hold what they hear as truth. And when we assume this habit and will in all the emotions, we are shown the passageway to the heavens. We must therefore return to the simplicity of children, because with it we shall embrace the beauty of the Lord’s humility.7
THEODORE OF HERACLEA:
But see, he says, that you do not at all despise those forced out of the church for wickedness. He does not want them to be cast out with any hatred or curse. But he spares those who are guilty of some damage or disorder and often hardened in their own depravity. It is as if it were possible to see even these change again for the better. By “little ones” he means those imperfect in their knowledge or those recently baptized. He does not want these to be looked down upon as ignorant in his teaching.8
Do you see in how many ways he leads us to care for our worthless brothers? Don’t therefore say, “The fellow’s a smith, a cobbler, a farmer; he’s stupid,” so that you despise him. In case you suffer the same, see in how many ways the Lord urges you to be moderate and enjoins you to care for these little ones. He placed a little child in the midst and said, “Become like children,” and, “Whoever receives one such child, receives me.” But “whoever causes one of these to sin” will suffer the worst fate. And he was not even satisfied with the example of the millstone, but he also added his curse and told us to cut off such people, even though they are like a hand or eye to us. And again, through the angels to whom these small brothers are handed over, he urges that we value them, as he has valued them through his own will and passion. When Jesus says, “The Son of man came to save the lost,”16 he points to the cross, just as Paul also says, writing about his brother for whom Christ died. It does not please the Father that anyone is lost. The shepherd leaves the ones that have been saved and seeks the one lost. And when he finds the one that has gone astray, he rejoices greatly at its discovery and at its safety.9
- LETTER 147.3. Stevenson, K., & Gluerup, M. (Eds.). (2008). Ezekiel, Daniel (p. 19). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 5.7. Stevenson, K., & Gluerup, M. (Eds.). (2008). Ezekiel, Daniel (p. 20). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- HOMILIES ON EZEKIEL 1.9.35. Stevenson, K., & Gluerup, M. (Eds.). (2008). Ezekiel, Daniel (p. 20). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- HOMILIES ON EZEKIEL 1.10.3. Stevenson, K., & Gluerup, M. (Eds.). (2008). Ezekiel, Daniel (p. 20). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 3.18.1. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 67). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 13.18. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (pp. 67–68). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON MATTHEW 18.1. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 68). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- FRAGMENT 105. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 73). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 59.4. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (pp. 74–75). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.