“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”
Today’s gospel from Mark has Jesus using the reception of a child to illustrate radical servanthood. He identifies himself not with the servant, but with the child—whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.
What do we know about the child Jesus placed in their midst? Absolutely nothing at all. We don’t even know there are children hanging around as we read the discussion of the disciples bickering, and then Jesus just sort of pulls one out of thin air to illustrate his point. Is the child an infant, or a tween? Boy? Girl? Androgynous? Clean? Dirty? Wealthy? Poor? Compliant, or a back-sassing little shit? We don’t know.
What you don’t need to be a parent to know is that kids vary, widely and wildly. They’re not idealistic cherubic silent babes wrapped in swaddling clothes in some mysteriously clean and soft hay—they’re small human sinners who love and cry and eat and fart and joke and prank and laugh and tease and poke and provoke. That is what Jesus is telling us to receive. That is what Jesus chooses to align himself with.
One of the most hilariously misguided things I ever heard was from the leader of a popular women’s Bible study. Several of us were standing around after the lesson, and she mentioned something she did for one of her sons. “Aw,” I said, “You’re such a good mom for doing that.”
“Oh no,” she responded very seriously. “The proof is in the pudding.”
Isn’t that just precious? She thinks that superior parenting skills will result in superior human beings, that we can stir and mix and bake our kids into something we’ve planned out and shopped for.
Bless her heart.
You see, parenting is a crapshoot. The same person can roll the dice twice and get different results. Sometimes kids are born with very different dispositions from their parents, and no amount of “nurture” will erase that “nature.” Sometimes kids are born with unpredictable illnesses or disabilities. Sometimes kids are born—gasp—with different sexual identities and orientations, even if you’re a radtrad Catholic.
That’s why reading this story about a teen named Dax is so infuriating and heart-rending. Dax was adopted and lived with a family for seven years before, Dax said, “they started not loving me anymore for who I was, being LGBTQ.” The family actually returned Dax to foster care. Super pro-life.
According to The Trevor Project, a resource for suicide prevention and crisis intervention services for LGBTQ youth:
- Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24.
- LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth.
- LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth.
- In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.
- LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
- Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.
A study done by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago shows that LGBT youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than their heterosexual peers. (Another horrific statistic from the study: unwed teen parents are 200% more likely than their peers to experience homelessness.)
How is it that a mother can forget her child? Are people just hoping for a mini-me to live out their dreams vicariously? Or, as the statistics suggest, are we as a society fine with our kids until they step over a very clear sexual line, and then all bets are off?
One thing I’m sure of—my kids aren’t pudding. They’re a damn bit saltier, a whole lot less jiggly, and they rarely stay in one place waiting to satisfy me. But that’s OK. I’m up for a game of craps with Jesus. Results will vary. It shouldn’t matter.