“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
Mark 9:37 (NIV)
Yesterday I was doing some study and reviewing notes for an upcoming series of messages that will be given among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. The focus of the messages is on the mystery and meaning of the Trinity, in which believers recognize God is one in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. One is three and three is one. It is not either-or, but both-and. It is sometimes said this way:
God the Father: God for us.
Jesus: God with us.
Holy Spirit: God in us.
I love the Greek word for Trinity: perichoresis. “Peri” is circle (as in, perimeter) and “choresis” is dance (as in choreography). It is a circle dance.
As I was contemplating these things, it struck me how often I have observed the institutional church (and I include myself in this) mentally ascribing to the doctrine of the Trinity (e.g. we say we believe it), but ignore the very simple and practical conclusions I must come to if I really believe in the Trinity.
For example, in today’s chapter #TheTwelve were arguing about who was greatest among them. Nothing surprising here. As boys we play “King of the Mountain” on the piles of snow made by the plows, and as men we play a constant game of “Who’s Top Dog” in business, politics, sports, and social standing. I can’t point the finger at Peter and the boys without three fingers pointing back at me.
Jesus turns the very natural male instinct for competition on its head as He tells His closest followers that whoever wants to be “greatest” must become the “least” and the “servant of all.” He pulls a little child up into His arms and says, “If you welcome this child, you welcome me and the one who sent me.”
Follow the logic with me. If I believe that Holy Spirit (God in us) indwells believers, then if I welcome that child I welcome God’s Spirit in that child. Because One is indistinguishable with Three, I am therefore also welcoming Jesus and “the One who sent” Jesus. In treating that person with loving kindness I am treating God in that person with loving kindness. At the same time, if I treat that child or person with contempt, abuse, or condemnation I am treating God in that person with contempt, abuse, or condemnation.
At this point, my old-self wants to make a point-of-order that this “if you welcome them you welcome me/us” paradigm only applies to those in whom God’s Spirit is indwelling. But I am still left without excuse if 1) I believe that “in Him all things hold together” (Col 1:17) and if I ascribe to the teachings of Jesus who tells me 2) to love my enemies and bless those who persecute me and 3) He came to love and redeem that person whom I treat with contempt.
As I follow the circle dance all the way around I keep ending up back at the same conclusion: there are no exemptions to the law of love.
In the quiet this morning I can’t help but think of individuals for whom I would really like to have an exemption. I also can’t escape the fact that the most sensitive, self-centric, hair-trigger or rage for me is when I feel dishonored by another person. In those moments I’m not choosing to “serve the least” but staking my own personal claim as “Top Dog” worthy of honor.
It is Maundy (Latin for “Sorrowful”) Thursday as I write this. The day followers of Jesus remember His Last Supper and the agony with which He faced the suffering and crucifixion of the coming day. In those Thursday evening hours He prayed to the Father and expressed His despair at the prospect of humbly laying down His life for others. Still, He chose to press forward. The way of the cross. The law of love.