Be Like a Child, Not Like the Children

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Ordinary Time 14
July 9, 2023
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: In this chapter - a snapshot of moments in Jesus' later ministry - Jesus confronts doubt and weariness from a people oppressed by guilt, hard work, political occupation - name it! He offers a prescription for doubt and weariness from an unexpected place.


This is a passage about doubt, part of a larger chapter which is, in large measure, about doubt. Is Jesus, after all, the Messiah we've been waiting for? Or will the wait go on, after this fiery young rabbi with the compelling ideas fades from the scene - as the past ones all did - and his followers, like so many others, are just absorbed back into whatever they were doing before? This text is the culmination of a chapter which raises those very questions.

This chapter of Jesus' story begins with the doubt of John the Baptist, no less! The chapter begins with doubt. Where does it end? While the chapter begins with the doubt of the venerable baptizer, its energy moves forward to an antidote, of sorts - to hidden things, mysteriously possessed only by infants, something greater than doubt, greater even than belief. What goes beyond doubt is, apparently, a whole new way of being which brings relief and rest - a complete rest from the weariness of a day-to-day trudge through a life without meaning.

So this snapshot of Jesus' life and ministry follows a progression that begins with the doubts of the last and greatest of Israel's prophets, the one who proclaimed, "Prepare the way of the Lord,"1 and who, in the midst of demanding changes of heart and life, proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming ...."2

The progression continues with the all-but blind groping of a wise and intelligent elite after "hidden things," and ends by offering its promise of "rest" to those who are weary and carrying heavy burdens.

Beyond certainty to faith

This 11th chapter in Matthew's Gospel runs quite a gamut. There is a plaintive, doubtful cry, from an imprisoned John the Baptist: "Are you the one who is to come ... or are we to wait for another?"

We move to whiny children fussing back and forth, saying "We want to play weddings!" "No! No! We want to play funerals!"3

There are unrepentant cities which, though part of the Promised Land, will nevertheless fare worse on judgment day than Sodom and Gomorrah.

And finally, in our passage for today, we come to the wise and intelligent.

The wise! The intelligent! That's a relief! They'll figure these things out for us, won't they? They'll draft it all out and hand it to us: the path, the way, the meaning behind all these cryptic teachings and bold miracles from this messiah who isn't behaving the way messiahs are supposed to behave - so we're told. They'll give us a map! They'll give us commentaries! They'll give us Bible dictionaries, theological takedowns, hermeneutical unravelings that will lead us to -

No. Wait.

It all seems to lead to ... infants, as it says in verse 25 of our reading.

It's all been revealed, not to the chief prophets, not to children, not to the leaders and teachers and denizens of the great cities, but to infants, little ones who can't yet even talk.

And then, after all that, we are offered some kind of promised land of rest. For you who are weary, rest.

We who are not infants, where will we find it? How will we access it?

Things hidden

What "hidden things"? Hidden from whom?

What are people - seeking people, searching, questing people, men and women on a mission, we people - what are we not seeing? What are we not recognizing? Entire cities, Chorazin, Bethsaida4; deeds of power were done among them, but they didn't see, either; they didn't recognize the deeds of power, they had no idea what was happening and who was among them, making it happen.

Clueless kids shrieking past each other in the marketplace, while equally clueless adults pass their glazed eyes over John, fasting and praying, and see only one more religious fanatic. And now comes Jesus, dancing amongst the party-goers, and they sniff, "Huh! A glutton and drunkard,5 and they get on with what's "important."

Things revealed - what things? These things!

Revealed to whom? Revealed to us!

Only we're not seeing "these things." Our gaze is clouded over with expectations about what religion is, what religion supposedly should be. A passionate and acted-out interpretation of scripture revealed down through the ages is dismissed as "organized religion." Outreach to suffering neighbors is dismissed as coddling social inferiors who just need a kick in the pants.

Our expectations have foundered upon what we want. We want to play weddings! We want to play funerals! We want to play the games we want to play, before we trudge back to the jobs we hate, but which pay the bills. What do our friends, our neighbors, our brothers, our sisters want? What of those with nothing, who are living under bridges? Who cares?

What is being made plain, even to John, that he's not seeing? The blind see! The lame walk! The poor get some Good News for a change! Just what is it that you were wanting, O you outcast in the camel's hair cloak, munching on bugs and wild honey?

You who are weary

What makes us weary? What wears us out? Where can we hope to find rest? Is there something we're not seeing because we are so weary? What is it that makes us so weary we can't see the one thing we need to see?

God has "hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children." What are "these things"? What has God hidden? This is the end of a long answer to "are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"6 The answer to that question seems to be hidden. It is a response to John the Baptist's doubt, and to ours.

Why hide things from the wise and learned? Isn't it the usual way of affairs for the wise and learned to know things that are simply beyond the grasp of little children? Isn't it the other way around: little kids can't grasp things that learned adults can? There is a reversal going on here - typical of Jesus, typical of the Bible. Younger brothers are picked instead of the eldest. Infertile women give birth. The greatest shall be humbled, the humble, exalted. Whoever would be greatest must be slave of all. The hungry are filled, the rich sent away empty. The first shall be last, and the last, first. Itinerant fishermen are picked to be apostles.

Where are such reversals crying out to be made now? Where are the lowly longing to be lifted up, those poor who are in dire need, not just for material succor, but of genuine Good News?

May we strive to be like the infants, to whom these things are plain.

What is it that is knowable to little ones, but not to the wise and learned? Is there hope for the wise and learned? Presumably, but they - and we - have to be willing to be taught by children. Jesus says things have been hidden from the wise and learned, and revealed to children; he doesn't say the learned can't know these things. They are just not readily accessible to the learned, to those steeped in the world's games.

The transition

How do we make the transition?

Acknowledge our weariness. Don't try to talk ourselves out of it. Weariness that is necessary for survival is still weariness. And we don't survive by bread alone. That which feeds our bodies and keeps them sleek and pretty can absolutely miss our souls.

Stop over-analyzing. We hunger and thirst for something that can't be accessed by our worldly wise, world-weary strategizing.

Learn to live with doubt. What we need is hidden to those of us who are good with words, and accessible only to those who trust as infants trust.

Trust ... like little children trust, like infants trust. An infant - okay, a well-loved, well cared for infant - does not worry, in the strict sense of the word. An infant just knows - no analysis, no rationalization - just knows that what he or she needs is there, will be there: rest, enough food to satisfy hunger, warmth, nurture; it's all just there.

Trust me, Jesus says, Our Father will provide, in that way. We can't always see it right in front of us. The way seems long and wearying and torturous, even sometimes non-existent, but it's there. Trust. Receive.

May we open ourselves, receive it like well-loved, well-cared-for infants, who just know ....

May we be like a certain child, and not like the children playing in the marketplace. Be like the children Jesus mentions in another place, where he says, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."7 That child who is the only one who can receive heaven's rest - be like that child, not like the children!

This chapter in Jesus' life takes us straight as an arrow to this: "Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

Coming to Jesus means following this path, leading from doubt, to hidden things, to rest.


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