The Lord created human beings out of earth,
and makes them return to it again.
He gave them a fixed number of days,
but granted them authority over everything on the earth.
He endowed them with strength like his own,
and made them in his own image.
He put the fear of them in all living beings,
and gave them dominion over beasts and birds.
Discretion and tongue and eyes,
ears and a mind for thinking he gave them.
He filled them with knowledge and understanding,
and showed them good and evil.
He put the fear of him into their hearts
to show them the majesty of his works.
And they will praise his holy name,
to proclaim the grandeur of his works.
He bestowed knowledge upon them,
and allotted to them the law of life.
and revealed to them his decrees.
Their eyes saw his glorious majesty,
and their ears heard the glory of his voice.
He said to them, "Beware of all evil"
and gave command to each of them concerning the neighbour.
Their ways are always known to him;
they will not be hidden from his eyes.
As a father has compassion on his children,
the Lord has pity on those who fear him;
for he knows of what we are made,
he remembers that we are dust. (R./)
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flowers like the flower of the field.
The wind blows and he is gone
and his place never sees him again. (R./)
But the love of the Lord is everlasting
upon those who hold him in fear;
his justice reaches out to children's children
when they keep his covenant in truth. (R./)
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
The human community is viewed from several angles in today's texts. Sirach makes a grand sweeping reflection, to include all the families and communities of earth, while Mark has Jesus turn attention to the children. From Sirach we have the impression that families and communities cannot survive without close bonds of loyalty, love and obedience; James shows our need of the advice, prayers and blessing of the elders; and then Mark teaches how children model for us the correct attitude for belonging to the Kingdom of God.
It is good to begin with Sirach where the dignity of human nature and of family relationships is stated with absolute certainty, "The Lord created humankind from the earth and made us to the divine image." Even if the material substance is earthly, our shape, form and way of acting and thinking image the divine. Sirach reaches into the details of our bodily existence: He God forms the human tongues and eyes and ears and imparts to them an understanding heart.
Our tongues, eyes and ears are simply instruments by which we communicate the desires and impressions of our heart. It is in our ways of interacting with one another that the divine way of life is most perfectly manifested.
God has no material body. Therefore, our imaging the divine life must be in our actions with one another, our bonds of love and loyalty, our creativity and fruitfulness, our planting of marvellous mysteries at the heart of our actions. When God "looks with favour on our hearts," the divine image becomes apparent to others. "He shows his glorious works." Sirach sees the need of honesty and integrity; he recognizes the evil of sham and make-believe. Our "ways are ever known to him; they cannot be hidden from his eyes." Last of all, Sirach reaches outward to the world family of nations. He confesses the special choice of Israel, who is "the Lord's own portion." That unique choice is available to all men and women through faith in Jesus. Here is the most complete blessing on family and the most perfect of all divine images.
Mark's gospel today draws us to the children within the family. Here Jesus states a message inscribed deeply in the gospel and in our memory: It is to just such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.
The people who brought their children to Jesus were like the parents who bring their children for baptism in the present day. The contrast between how the disciples and Jesus responded to the parents bringing children to him is very striking. The disciples wanted to turn the children away, as a nuisance and a distraction, whereas Jesus insisted that the children come to him and that nothing be placed in the way of this.
This story suggests that we must do what we can to bring children into a relationship with Jesus. It also suggests that along with our responsibility towards children we have a lot to learn from them too. We have to learn to welcome the kingdom of God as children do. Children are very receptive to good things, to gifts, including the gift of the kingdom of God, the gift of the Lord. They are open to that gift; they are very receptive to it. We can easily loose that receptiveness, the openness to the Lord, as we grow older. As adults we have to keep on recovering it, we need to keep learning to become like children so that we can welcome the gift of the Lord as openly as they do.