A child’s description of the Christ Child becomes an epiphany
As I was preparing my homilies for the Christmas Masses, I found myself trying to come up with a word that would explain the reaction Jesus received from the shepherds and the Magi.
They were enthralled by the Christ Child and gladly gave him gifts indicating their wonder and praise. What was it that this new-born had that so quickly won over wise men who studied stars as well as hardened shepherds who were used to being treated harshly?
I never came up with the word I was looking for and ended up with a couple of paragraphs to describe my idea. The first of the Christmas Masses was the Children’s Mass. At the homily I invited the youngsters to come around the manger scene that had been set up by our parishioners. In fact, it was a brand new nativity set open to view for the first time. I started off by asking the children if they would describe the baby Jesus. I received some thoughtful answers. Finally, a three year old girl shouted out, “Jesus is cute!”
My heart fluttered with joy. She made my Christmas. All the words that flashed through my mind for the last two weeks were all to be found in learned theology books. I had never seen the word “cute” in a book on the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity.
But, it fits.
God sent his only son into the world to be His Word to humanity. And, that word was “cute.” Think about it. Cute is not what you would expect from the Creator of heaven and earth. Cute is not what you would expect from the judge of the living and the dead.
Yet, once confronted by a God who became cute for us, you can see why people opened their coffers to give him every bit of human wealth they had. The scene melts the heart of anyone who looks. They begin to see the world in a different light. They begin to see beauty and joy and meaning. The dictionary informs us that cuteness has the ability to make the beholder more life-giving.
If so, then “cute” is the word I was searching for. It is what the whole world is seeking.
That’s what I told the people at the next three Christmas Masses. This insight, conveyed by a 3-year-old to a person with a doctorate on the subject, makes every passage in sacred Scripture come to life.
In the four Sundays of February we have 12 passages from the Bible. Let’s look at each of them from the perspective of the concept of being cute.
The first Sunday of February is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Traditionally, it is the feast of Jesus meeting his people. The first reading is from the Book of Malachi. The prophet asks the question, “Who will endure the day of his coming?” He’s really telling us that if you see him, you will be changed. You will become like silver and gold. “Cute” changes the beholder. It produces a heat that purifies. To see the true Jesus is to be made cute.
The second reading is from the Letter to the Hebrews. Here, we learn how Jesus got his cuteness. “He had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest.” Getting to be a merciful priest may very well demand a previous stage of being cute like his brothers and sisters.
The Gospel for the Presentation is from Luke and is so obvious. Luke tells us about two grandparent-like characters. Both had relationships with the Holy Spirit. They were visionaries. Simeon claims that, in the baby Jesus, he has seen salvation. To be cute is also to be capable of lighting up the world with saving power. Anna is introduced as a prophetess. She sees the promise of redemption in the child. Cuteness makes visible the potential of giving ourselves for the sake of others.
The Fifth Sunday of the year starts with the magnificent 58th chapter of Isaiah. We are told of what becomes of a person who develops his or her cuteness. Such a person shares food with the hungry and clothes the naked. He or she can call on God and God will appear. But first one must get rid of that which destroys cuteness, namely oppression, bad speech and lies.
The second reading is from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. The next two Sundays have continuations of the same passage. Here, Paul admits that when he arrived in Corinth his speech was not sublime. Rather, he was fearful and weak. Perhaps, his attraction to the Corinthians was that he appeared shy which is a function of being cute.
This Sunday’s Gospel is from the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. The next two Sundays will continue from the same source. Here, Jesus calls his followers the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In effect, we are to put a smile on all our friends and neighbors. Being cute can accomplish this desired effect quite efficiently.
On the third Sunday of February, which is the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Old Testament reading is taken from the Book of Sirach. Here we get into the subject of the commandments. Sirach, the wise man, calls the commandments choices. If we choose to follow them, we can receive life and good things as well as wisdom, might and power. Or else we may choose death and evil. Looked at in this way, the commandments are not burdens that an arbitrary God imposes. They are really the way we would want to live if we want to be like God. They may be disparaged as doing things the “cute” way. They also lead to eternal life.
Returning to the second chapter of First Corinthians, Paul tells us that his words are mysterious and hidden. His wisdom is not that of his age. It didn’t impress those who are world leaders. Paul’s words were taken to be juvenile by the smart men of his day. Just before coming to Corinth, Paul had been dismissed by the learned men at the Areopagu in Athens. He was too simple and cute for them.
Next, we go back to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is teaching us about the commandments. The key is to obey them. That’s what a good child does. He or she listens to his or her parents. To obey is to hear and respond. Such a child may be considered cute. So cuteness becomes superior to wisdom if one is looking at the commandments as a wise guy. The better way is the “little way” as St. Thérèse has taught us. That may lead some to call us “cute.”
The last Sunday of the month’s first reading is from Leviticus. Moses is told to say to the Israelites, “Be holy for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” A holy person is later observed as one who does not hate or take revenge or bear a grudge. It’s getting to sound a lot like a cute man or woman.
In the second reading, Paul tells the Corinthians that they are the Temple of God. Once again, he warns them against the wisdom of this world. They should, on the other hand, be willing to be considered fools. Isn’t that the problem cute people have? They are looked down upon as not being wise or popular. Truly, they are innocent, loving people who are nourishing, caring, and life-giving.
The Gospel this Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time presents Jesus’ take on retribution and hatred. He tells us to offer no resistance to one who is evil. And besides, we are to love our enemies. These sayings may be criticized for being unrealistic or unmanly, but they demand that we genuinely love one another. That’s what Jesus wants us to do.
The Lord, by means of his birth, his public ministry, and his death and resurrection has shown his deep love for us. That little girl looking at the Christmas crèche saw what Jesus wanted the entire world to see.
He became cute for us.
And in his cuteness he shows his divine love for us, his respect for us and his desire for us to become like him.
Saturday, Feb. 1: 2 Samuel 12:1-7, 10-17; Psalm 51:12-17; Mark 4:35-41
Sunday, Feb. 2: Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 24:7-10; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40
Monday, Feb. 3: 2 Samuel 15:13-14, 30 and 16:5-13; Psalm 3:2-7; Mark 5:1-20
Tuesday, Feb. 4: 2 Samuel 18:9-10, 14, 24-25, and 18:30–19:3; Psalm 86:1-6; Mark 5:21-43
Wednesday, Feb. 5: Memorial, St. Agatha, virgin, martyr, 2 Samuel 24:2, 9-17; Psalm 32:1-2, 5-7; Mark 6:1-6
Thursday, Feb. 6: Memorial, St. Paul Miki and companions, martyrs, 1 Kings 2:1-4, 10-12; 1 Chronicles 29:10-12; Mark 6:7-13
Friday, Feb. 7: Sirach 47:2-11; Psalm 18:31, 47, 50-51; Mark 6:14-29
Saturday, Feb. 8: 1 Kings 3:4-13; Psalm 119:9-14; Mark 6:30-34
Sunday, Feb. 9: Isaiah 58:7-10; Psalm 112:4-9; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16
Monday, Feb. 10: Memorial, St. Scholastica, virgin, 1 Kings 8:1-7, 9-13; Psalm 132:6-10; Mark 6:53-56
Tuesday, Feb. 11: 1 Kings 8:22-23, 27-30; Psalm 84:3-5, 10-11; Mark 7:1-13
Wednesday, Feb. 12: 1 Kings 10:1-10; Psalm 37:5-6, 30-31, 39-40; Mark 7:14-23
Thursday, Feb. 13: 1 Kings 11:4-13; Psalm 106:3-4, 35-37, 40; Mark 7:24-30
Friday, Feb. 14: Memorial Sts. Cyril, monk, and Methodius, bishop, 1 Kings 11:29-32 and 12:19; Psalm 81:10-15; Mark 7:31-37
Saturday, Feb. 15: 1 Kings 12:26-32 and 13:33-34; Psalm 106:6-7, 19-22; Mark 8:1-10
Sunday, Feb. 16: Sirach 15:15-20; Psalm 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37
Monday, Feb. 17: James 1:1-11; Psalm 119:67-68, 71-72, 75-76; Mark 8:11-13
Tuesday, Feb. 18: James 1:12-18; Psalm 94:12-15, 18-19; Mark 8:14-21
Wednesday, Feb. 19: James 1:19-27; Psalm 15:2-5; Mark 8:22-26
Thursday, Feb. 20: James 2:1-9; Psalm 34:2-7; Mark 8:27-33
Friday, Feb. 21: James 2:14-24, 26; Psalm 112:1-6; Mark 8:34–9:1
Saturday, Feb. 22: Feast, the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle, 1 Peter 5:1-4; Psalm 23:1-6; Matthew 16:13-19
Sunday, Feb. 23: Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; Psalm 103:1-4, 8, 10, 12-13; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48
Monday, Feb. 24: James 3:13-18; Psalm 19:8-10, 15; Mark 9:14-29
Tuesday, Feb. 25: James 4:1-10; Psalm 55:7-11, 23; Mark 9:30-37
Wednesday, Feb. 26: James 4:13-17; Psalm 49:2-3, 6-11; Mark 9:38-40
Thursday, Feb. 27: James 5:1-6; Psalm 49:14-20; Mark 9:41-50
Friday, Feb. 28: James 5:9-12; Psalm 103:1-4, 8-9, 11-12; Mark 10:1-12
Saturday, March 1: James 5:13-20; Psalm 141:1-3, 8; Mark 10:13-16
Father Brando is pastor of St. Mary Parish in Gatlinburg.