I am just finishing a book on the Comanche tribe that was active in Texas and Kansas in the 19th century. The author claims they were the most powerful and fiercest tribe in American history. Their society was nomadic, and their whole way of life was built on hunting and on war — both of which they were unusually good at.

In a hunter-warrior society, a child is of no immediate value. A child is a burden, needing defending and nurturing before growing into a resource, someone whose strength and knowledge begin to “contribute” to the hunt and to the battle.

But in the gospel today, Jesus gives a child as a mirror in which to see the truth of ourselves: we are, in fact, children — no matter how skilled we have become. We are utterly dependent and needy before God — in great part because we are sinners, totally incapable of managing what is most important for us, our own salvation.

Learning that we are needy and dependent is not an easy lesson to learn. We’re brought up to take responsibility for ourselves, to give more than take. If we find our neediness hard to learn, we’re in good company — the apostles found it hard too.

But we have a lifetime to study it. And that is what we do each time we celebrate the Eucharist: Jesus himself is fairly useless from a practical viewpoint. He practiced an elementary trade; he gathered a band of unspectacular followers, and, after a teaching career of just three years, he was executed. We proclaim his humiliation and death, suffered for our sake, by taking a little bread, a little wine — not enough to nourish us in an earthly sense, just enough to remind us that, with him, we must become little — even the least — to enter the Kingdom of God.