I remember being 10. I had just discovered a passion for soccer and watched the entire World Cup for the first time alongside my father and my brother.
I embarked on my first mission trip with my church that year to the sierras of Chihuahua, Mexico, where I was fascinated by the idea of one day doing ministry full-time.
I remember being 18. I had graduated high school a semester earlier and had moved to Alabama for a few months before starting college in the fall. My family was no longer together, and my mother had to work all the time because she was now a single parent of two kids.
I knew I wanted to leave those difficult experiences behind and study college away from home. Today I can tell you that I did not know much more at 18 than I knew at 10.
As a journalist and minister who has found a home in Texas, I’ve reflected on these stages of my life as I’ve mourned the tragedy currently crushing the Latino community—an additional chapter to our often painful history. As we so dreadfully now know, on Tuesday, 19 children, ages 9, 10, and 11, were murdered by one who had reached 18 a little more than a week earlier.
The victims loved their moms, celebrated first Communions, and made honor roll. They were children who, just like me years ago, might have watched their first World Cup with their dads and brothers later this very year.
The person who murdered these children was a man barely on the other side of childhood—one who, as Brennan Manning writes, was “broken on the wheels of living.” We know only the surface of what Salvador Ramos’s life was like: a parent struggling with drug addiction, bullying that targeted his speech impediment, violence that intensified as he grew older.
As we grieve these outrageous deaths, we know that Christ was not indifferent to children. Matthew 18 and 19 reveal that Jesus, the very embodiment of God, loves and sees them.
These passages show that as we mature in Christ, we are expected not only to become more like children—as the disciples learned when they asked who would be the greatest in God’s kingdom—but also to protect and look after them.
While we struggle to seek solutions to an infuriatingly intractable problem, perhaps one area the church should take care to not neglect is the care and stewardship of the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society.
A little child shall lead them
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
Our culture understands greatness not unlike the culture that Jesus was born into. Wealth. Power. Markers of status that people devote their entire lives to seeking. But Jesus has a different model for those who want to make it in his kingdom: children.
To make his point, Jesus beckons to a child and brings him or her into the circle of disciples. He wants them to consider the child’s smallness, fragility, dependence, humanity and to emulate it. In contrast to his own culture, Jesus’ words and actions tell us that children not only are people but are also the most important members of the eternal and holy kingdom of heaven.
But children are not a prop that Jesus wants to use as an object lesson. Our interactions with them are our interactions with God. Welcoming a child, Jesus says, is welcoming God. Shaping a culture that will hurt children, tear them to the ground, ignore their loneliness, and violate their vulnerability suggests something about how we worship the Lord.