‘You have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants’. Matthew 11:25
Teaching religious education to secondary school students has been a daily lesson into the insights and honesty of children. It has frequently been refreshing to hear them express their understanding of the Gospel. On a number of occasions, there has been the thought that Jesus himself wouldn’t have disagreed with them.
Jesus is happy to suggest children have lessons teach.
It seems a strange thing for Jesus to do – children were not held in special regard. It would be the 19th Century before children began to enjoy status as children.
In Jesus’ time, most people would have seen them as smaller versions of adults; mouths to feed and hands to assist with the daily work. Why does Jesus talk about children? What is it about children that enables him to teach his listeners about how they should respond to the Gospel?
Perhaps three “h’s” can help an understanding of what it is that Jesus is saying: happiness, honesty and hopefulness.
In Saint Matthew Chapter 11 Verses 16-17, Jesus says, ‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ He is telling people that they have heard the Good News and that there has been no emotion in their response, there has been nothing to indicate that his words have changed their hearts.
When we are children, we make it clear when we are happy, we show our emotions, our feelings; people know what our mood is like, but as we grow older, we lose the confidence to speak as we feel. The people who had heard the Good News should have been so filled with joy that they were like people dancing to the music of a flute, but instead they show no sign of emotion, even when told sad things, they do not respond.
Jesus wants a response from us that is childlike, that has a sense of the pure unalloyed joy that we experienced in childhood days, he wants faith that expresses emotion because that expression shows that we really believe and have been changed by what we hear.
When we are children, honesty comes automatically; we speak as we think; we say what we like and what we do not like; we show excitement and we show boredom. To express emotion, to dance and to mourn, is an honest way in which to behave; it is to be transparent.
As we grow older, we are taught that politeness, sensitivity towards others, demands that we are not always fully honest, but politeness can be carried to the point where it becomes hypocrisy, where we say things that we simply do not believe.
Perhaps, out of politeness, our church leaders do not tell us that we are like people who refuse to dance or to mourn, when the very thing we need to learn is to be more honest about our faith.
Perhaps we are almost afraid of honesty, we look at the honesty of Jesus and look at the hostility it aroused among those to whom he spoke, and we might feel that it is better not to speak so plainly, to couch our words in such a way that we can feel that we have told the truth without risking causing upset or offence to anyone.
What does Jesus expect from us? If he talks about us becoming like children, isn’t it that he expects greater honesty from us than we presently show?
When we are children, happiness and honesty are accompanied by an irrepressible hopefulness.
When we are children, there is always cause for hope; no matter what happens, we think that there will be some way out of it. We might be watching a soccer match where our team is losing five goals to nil, but we will think that if the opposition can score five goals in a row then so can we. Whatever situation we meet, we will think that there has to be a way out of it, that there has to be someone who will come and change everything. Nothing can quench our hope.
Jesus is confident about the future because those to whom the Good News has been entrusted are the happy and the honest and the hopeful. In Saint Matthew Chapter 11, Verses 25-26, Jesus says, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will’.
‘Such was your gracious will’: it is God’s purpose that the Good News be carried by the childlike.
It is a challenge to us, a challenge to set aside the people we are and become the people that God would have us to be; a challenge to be people of happiness, honesty and hopefulness, not because that is our inclination, but because that these are the things that Jesus asks of us.