Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Old Hearts Young Again
By Charles Hoffacker
People sometimes assume that Christian living means taking on a lot of stuff, making life more complicated than it already is. Jesus suggests that living the Christian life takes us in the opposite direction.
We hear him praying to the Father, rejoicing in the Spirit, giving thanks. Something on this sad earth has brightened his heart. And what is it? Listen to what he 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.”
It’s not clear what Jesus means here by “these things,” but apparently they are what he has come to proclaim. Such things are hidden from wise, intelligent, adult people. They are apparent to babies. This is so because of the Father’s action. The implication here is that any of us wanting to live the Christian life had better pay attention to young children; they are the ones in on the secret.
So what do little ones have going for them? First, they are teachable. Second, they cut to the heart of the matter. Third, they live by trust.
• The celebrated Italian educator Maria Montessori declares that every young child has an “absorbent mind.” They learn all sorts of things every moment just as a sponge soaks up water. Babies enter this world utterly open to learning, and how much each of them takes in!
This is related to the sense of wonder so prominent in a young child and so lacking in many of us who are older. Take a young child for a walk some time. That child will stop along the way to examine the wonders you did not notice: a leaf, an insect, grass growing in an unexpected place. Take a young child for a walk sometime; it will be a tonic for your soul.
• Children also cut to the heart of the matter. They get to the deep issue and announce it with simplicity and candor. They, and other people like them, make the greatest philosophers, the best theologians.
Consider this prayer from an African schoolgirl. O great Chief, light a candle in my heart, that I may see what is in it, and sweep the rubbish from your dwelling place. O great Chief, light a candle in my heart, that I may see what is in it, and sweep the rubbish from your dwelling place. 1 Here is an utterance that recognizes our need and how God equips us for a better future. It stands in judgment on adult failures to confess sin and witness to hope. Children cut to the heart of things. They find their way to the center.
• Children live by trust. They trust others to get them through. They cannot do otherwise, in that they lack power. What they have is love. Sometimes they show the rest of us what it means to trust, for there are times when we also lack power.
A young boy was once asked to donate blood to help his ill brother. He readily agreed. After the blood was drawn, he asked, “When will I die?” He thought the gift he gave would mean his death, yet he trusted that somehow it would turn out all right. So what’s to be done for those of us whose childhoods are past, who are tainted by
• a damaged sense of wonder that makes us miss what is important,
• a sophistication and subtlety that prevents us from speaking plain and deep truths,
• an inability to trust that shuts our hearts to loving and accepting love?
Is there hope for the likes of us or does the Father shut us out from what is finally most precious in life?
Our situation resembles that of Nicodemus, the highly placed religious and political leader, the consummate adult, who comes to Jesus in John’s Gospel and desperately wonders whether someone can be born after having become old, whether a man can enter a second time into his mother’s womb and start over again (John 3:4).
What makes Jesus rejoice in thanksgiving to his Father is something more than the natural holiness of children. He rejoices as well that the rest of us can start over again and become children in the Spirit. What stirs the heart of Jesus is that adults can practice “a spirituality of subtraction,” [Richard Rohr, O.F.M., Letting Go: A Spirituality of Subtraction (Cincinnati, Ohio: St. Anthony Messenger Press Audiocassettes, 1987)]–a life path that enables us to see and learn and love with a clarity like that of children.
Have you noticed how, in some families, a conspiracy thrives between grandparents and their young grandchildren? Both young and old seem to be in on the same secret, while the middle generation appear clueless and unaware. The grandparents have become young again; theirs is a spirituality of subtraction. Their grandchildren recognize them as allies, senior children. These relationships suggest that there is hope, even for successive adult generations.
How then does this spirituality of subtraction work? What makes adults eligible for what sounds like rebirth? Can we, as Nicodemus asks, be born again? Yes, we can, but first we must die.
We must die somehow like Jesus, that we may rise with him. This is what our baptism means. It is the truth behind Christian living. As did the boy who donated blood to his brother, we face with trust the different deaths that confront us, whether small or large, and we refuse to be controlled by fear. We recognize what really matters. We are able to learn.
These different deaths come along to confront us. They demand that we give up what we thought we could not live without. They show us, despite themselves, how God’s repeated gift is life grander and more durable than we can imagine.
These deaths that confront us inside of life force us to learn, to find our way to the center, to live by trust, or in other words, to be born again as children who are in on the secret.
Our God brings life out of death and makes old hearts young again. He replaces our adult anxiety with a wisdom available to whomever welcomes it. Beyond our sophisticated world-weariness there waits for us joy like that of a child. For this let us give thanks.
[Michael Counsell, compiler, 2000 Years of Prayer (Morehouse Publishing, 1999), 525. 2. John 3:4. 3. Richard Rohr, O.F. M., Letting Go: A Spirituality of Subtraction (St. Anthony Messenger Press Audiocassettes, 1987)].
Copyright 2005 Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.