The Gospel reading today is from Matthew 11:25-27
‘Jesus exclaimed, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’
The context for this reading is that Jesus has just sent out the first missionaries- we read similar accounts in Mark 6 and Luke 10. In Luke we hear how the missionaries (the 12 in Matthew and Mark, the 72 in Luke) came back telling Jesus of all they had done in his name. They would also have told him about the places where his message was not received well. Indeed, in the verses just before our Gospel reading, Jesus was calling out those cities and people who had not received his message to change their ways. His message had been rejected there; rejected by the ‘wise’
This Gospel reading presents us with 3 Paradoxes or things that at first sound weird or even wrong but which, when we go a little further with them, reveal a deep wisdom. And each paradox presents a challenge.
The 3 paradoxes are:
Losing is winning,
The only adult way to come to faith is to be like a child,
The only way know the father is to know the son.
1 Losing is winning
At first reading, Jesus is putting his followers down. He tells them that they aren’t wise and learned! But wait a minute. That’s not a Jesus thing to do. Let’s fast forward a few lines. In verse 29 he says ‘learn from me: I am gentle and humble of heart’. So, rather than calling them out as not wise he was applauding their humility- the very thing missing from those who had rejected his message. They were proud. So… For Jesus humility is where it’s at! Let me share two thoughts with you here:
We learn humility through accepting humiliation- Mother Teresa.
Christianity at first feels much more like losing than winning- Fr Richard Rohr.
Losing, humiliating as it can be, draws us into humble space- God space- turn the other cheek space- give them your coat as well space- Jesus space.
CHALLENGE: Accept a loss today. Lose an argument. Take second place. Put someone else first. Do as my mum always says and offer it up.
2 The only adult way to come to faith is to be like a child
Jesus calls his followers ‘mere children’. Again on first reading this seems condescending. But that’s not a Jesus thing either. Jesus uses the description of child or children as a compliment and we know how he welcomed children often and loved them dearly. For us to be like children is for us to be innocent, open, loving.
This reminds me of a story from my own family. When my son Joe was only 4 or 5 (15 years ago now) I asked him ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ Joe looked at me for a moment while he thought. He answered me ‘Bigger!’ What an honest, simple, true and modest answer! He was wide eyed about the possibility of growth. This is what Jesus may be .drawing us to- being wide eyed about the possibility of growth in faith and love.
CHALLENGE: Children also laugh a lot. Find someone or something that makes you smile and laugh.
3 The only way to know the father is to know the son.
Jesus said stuff like this a lot. If we go to the Gospel of John we find around 16 references like ‘I am in the Father and the Father is in me’. This tells us a lot about the intimacy of relationship between Father, Son and indeed Spirit. So, to know the Father, we must get to know Jesus more and more each day. What a wonderful invitation.
CHALLENGE: Do a short meditation- close your eyes. Breathe slowly and deeply. Imagine going deep inside yourself and finding a room there. Imagine Jesus there. Sit with him. See him and speak to him. More importantly, listen to him. Do this once today.
Jesus came to change the world – to change us. Imagine a world where we weren’t obsessed with coming first, rather obsessed with helping others shine. Imagine a world where we were all like wide eyed children full of the possibilities of growth. Imagine a world where we all got to know the love of God through Jesus. We can play a small part in that plan each day. Are you up for the challenge?
(this is a transcript of a talk I gave for St John the Evangelist Parish, Belfast. You can watch and listen here)