The reading this week has Jesus picking up a child, placing that child in the midst of the disciples, and addressing them about the nature of the kingdom of God. His words are profound and everyone who ever is granted authority in the Church needs them posted somewhere that he can see them every day.
I want to talk about the little boy, though. Mark is careful to tell us that Jesus sat down when he did this. I see him holding the little boy in his arms, standing between his knees. Jesus is leaning forward when he says, “Whoever receives a little one in my name receives me and ultimately the one who sent me.” We know the disciples struggled with this word of Jesus. They would struggle with it until the day of Pentecost when the gift of the Spirit changed everything for them. Jesus’ words are God-ward and God-words. Our human nature alone cannot grasp them or accept them.
But what of that little boy? What did he think of all this? We don’t know. The text says nothing. But tradition has much to say. Tradition says that he grew to become a leader in the earliest Christian movement. He would be known as Ignatius of Antioch. Sometime in the first or second decade of the next century, when this little boy was an old man, a rival and enemy accused him to Romans of being a Christian. He did not deny it. At the time the Trajan policy was in place. If he refused to renounce Christ at this point, his life could be taken from him. He was sentenced to die in the arena in Rome. On his way from Antioch to Rome he wrote a number of letters. At least seven of them are considered authentic. You can read them here: http://persweb.wabash.edu/facstaff/royaltyr/AncientCities/web/bradleyj/Project%201/The%20Letters%20of%20Ignatius.html
I recommend the letter to Romans. The icon is of Ignatius. You can guess from it how this story ends. He tells the Romans that he really wants to look and be like Jesus.