Saint Therese of the Child Jesus – Commentary on Isaiah 66:10-14c; Ps 130; Matthew 18:1-5
The Gospel reading from Matthew speaks of those who are really great in the Kingdom of God. It is the beginning of the fourth discourse given by Jesus in this gospel, a discourse which discusses the relationships between members of the Christian community.
As the reading opens, Jesus’ disciples approach him and ask who is the greatest in the Kingdom. Probably to their surprise, Jesus called over a small child and placed him among them. He then told them that unless they “turn”, that is, make a radical internal change in themselves, and become like little children, they will not be able to be part of the Kingdom. And what does becoming like a little child mean? “Whoever humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven (God).” What Jesus is emphasising here is a particular quality of a good child – its docility, that is, its openness to learn what is true and good. It is this docility towards God and his will for me that is most important for my growth as a person and also in making me an effective influence for the good of other people.
Greatness, then, does not consist in great wealth, high intelligence, in power over other people, in high status or fame. It consists, as the Gospel will show elsewhere, in a spirit of dedicated love and service seeking always the well-being of other people.
Jesus also says in today’s reading that “whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me”. This is an exhortation for the follower of Jesus to reach out in love and care especially for those who are insignificant and weak in our society. In reaching out to them, we reach out to Jesus himself. Later, in this gospel, Jesus will say, “As often as you did it to the very least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.” And, in the passages immediately following today’s reading, he will speak very strongly in condemnation of those who lead the small and the weak astray and away from God.
We can easily see why this reading was chosen for today’s feast. Therese was a young Sister living in the total seclusion of a Carmelite convent. In the eyes of the world, which neither knew or cared about her existence, she was a nobody. Yet, after her death, her real greatness in being a perfect child of Christ was revealed and she became a model and inspiration for thousands of people.
The First Reading is from the last chapter of the Book of Isaiah. The reading is part of a hymn to “Mother Zion”, that is, Jerusalem. Here, Jerusalem is taken as an image of God’s loving care for his people and should be read in the context of St Therese. “Rejoice with her and be glad because of her, all you who love her.”
“Oh that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort, that you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts!” A lovely description of the love that Therese had for her Lord from whom she received so much.
And again, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you, in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort.” In a life that was not always easy and ended in a lengthy illness, Therese found comfort in her Lord. In spite of her sufferings and through her sufferings she found Jesus close to her.
Let us ask her that she may give us the courage to follow her example in our trials and difficulties.