One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, "Where have you come from? Satan answered the Lord, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it." The Lord said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil." Then Satan answered the Lord, "Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face." The Lord said to Satan, "Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!" So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother's house, a messenger came to Job and said, "The oxen were ploughing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you." While he was still speaking, another came and said, "The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you." While he was still speaking, another came and said, "The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you." While he was still speaking, another came and said, "Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother's house, and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you."
Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped. He said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, an naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong-doing.
An argument arose among the disciples as to which one of them was the greatest. But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, and said to them, "Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest."
John answered, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us." But Jesus said to him, "Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you."
Children appear in our first passage from the Book of Job, and here our discussion moves in another direction. We are reading from the prose prologue, which with the epilog at the end, forms the context for the dramatic dialogue within the central part of the book. This prose section turns out to be the most ancient part and belonged to the patrimony of the Near East. We meet the somewhat naive situation in which Satan shows up in the heavenly throne room and argues with God about justice in the human family. God permits Satan to test Job, destroying first his property and then taking the lives of his sons and daughters. Job is alone, totally alone. His wife appears later in the narrative but is hardly any consolation. Alone, yes; but alone with God. "Naked I came out from my mother's womb, and naked shall I go back again. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."
Children make us ponder the mystery of life. As adults, we cannot control life as though we were God. At the same time we do not act solely on instinct, like animals. We must think and consider all of the responsibilities of life. Yet, there must also remain a secret part of life which belongs solely to God. Not only in the process of conception, pregnancy and birth, but also in many other important moments of our existence, we do our best when we follow intuitions or inspirations which take even ourselves by surprise.
Children quarrel, yes, but they quickly make up again. The gospel presents us with two scenes of envy and pettiness. The disciples were arguing, "which of them was the greatest." Jesus turns to children and says to welcome a child is to welcome him, and "The least one among you is the greatest." This statement is all the more puzzling if it includes Jesus. Is he the least? He is, supremely, the child of his Father, always in the attitude of receiving the Father's life and as a child he is receiving it totally.
When Jesus wanted to teach his disciples something he sometimes did it with actions as well as with words. We have an example of that in this morning's gospel. The disciples were arguing as to which of them was the greatest. Jesus needed to teach them something about what constitutes greatest in God's eyes. He began his teaching by doing something, taking a child and setting the child beside him. He then completed this action with his words, identifying himself and God who sent him with the child. The child was not a symbol of greatness in the ancient world, but a symbol of weakness, vulnerability and frailty. It is not the great of this world, but the little ones, like the children, who serve as channels for the coming of the Lord. Jesus and God identify themselves with those whom the world considers weak and of no status. In arguing as to which of them was the greatest, the disciples were way off the mark. They were moving in a direction which was the very opposite of how God and his Son, Jesus, move. Jesus suggests that God's values are different to the values of the world. Like the disciples in the gospel, we can sometimes operate out of the values of the world. We have to keep reminding ourselves of God's values as Jesus reveals them to us.