I recently overheard an exchange between my sister and her four-year-old daughter, one that apparently takes place frequently.
“Who’s better than you?” my sister asked, in her best football coach voice.
“Nobody!” shouted my little niece.
And I prayed that she will believe that her whole life.
There is a priceless security, when you are a child, in knowing that your parent loves you and thinks you are the most wonderful human being ever born. If we are people of faith, we believe that this is how deeply God loves each one of us. If we imagine ourselves as a disappointment in the eyes of God, or as less than another person, we are imagining God as a dysfunctional parent. And if we imagine ourselves as better than another person in the eyes of God, if we feel we have the right to denigrate or revile or spit upon anyone, we are denying God’s abiding love for that person.
Because we are all God’s children.
“When, Lord?” ask the faithful in the Gospel of Matthew. “When was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or sick or in prison and visited you?” (Mt 25:37-9) And the Lord answers them: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). And so are we called to act, we who say we follow Jesus. The important thing to remember is that when we minister to someone, we are doing it for another child of God, not for someone less worthy of God’s love than ourselves. We are serving a sacred sibling.
When we look down on our brother who’s in prison or our sister who’s an addict, or our transgender brother or our sister of another color, or our brother who’s overweight or our sister who’s unemployed, we are in effect saying that we feel we are superior beings. Maybe we seem to be more together. Maybe we’ve been lucky. Maybe our lives are not as messy. But people are more complicated than their labels. Regardless of how we judge the lives of others, we are all God’s children. Jesus tells us a story of sibling rivalry in the parable of the prodigal son, whose older brother is a Biblical example of how not to behave. This self-righteous brother complains that he has not been rewarded for making better choices than his younger brother. He forgets that we are all God’s children, no matter how we fail.
Three words remind me that we are all God’s children: Compassion. Mindfulness. Gratitude. These words watch me from a little blue post-it note on the wall behind my desk, and I can’t now remember who told me to write them down and keep them visible. Compassion is the mirror that gives us insight into the lives of others, and the ability to associate the pain or sorrow or trials that besiege another to our own experiences of those very things. Mindfulness helps us to breathe, to pause, to be present to others, and to refrain from snap judgments. Gratitude is the recognition that all that we have is a gift from the hand of God. And now God expects us to be the hands of love to all those children.
And not only for the short Sunday hours when we are actually in church. It’s easy to wave our hands in the air and sing about how we are all God’s children, and hard to treat others as all God’s children during the rest of the week. Or even in the parking lot. And lest I sound like I have all the answers: I don’t. One of my own sisters barely talks to me. I have alienated her, by being holier-than-thou. Sometimes the more we think we’ve got it figured out, the further from God we live. It is only when we recognize that we are all God’s beloved children that we stand on holy ground. When God’s love permeates us, we know that nobody’s better than we are, and nobody’s worse.