The mystery of the Kingdom revealed to "mere children"
(Readings: Zechariah 9:9-10; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30)
Introduction to Mass
The readings in the Mass this Sunday inform us about the kind of outlook on life we should have as followers of Christ. St. Paul tells the new Christians he's writing to that they should have spiritual interests and lead spiritual lives, rather than conforming to the selfish, materialistic life of the people around them. In the gospel Christ says that we are closer to God when we can re-discover, and cultivate, the simple, uncomplicated attitude of a child, rather than priding ourselves on how sophisticated our worldly knowledge is.
To begin Mass, we acknowledge our inclinations towards the unspiritual and our lack of simplicity, and we ask God for his forgiveness.
In Saint Paulís mind there was always a big difference between the members of the Christian community, the believers in Christ, and the men and women who hadnít seen the light and converted to the Christian message. He always tended to draw the distinction very sharply, and he does the same again in his letter to the community at Rome, which we heard a small part of in the second reading.
In that passage he was making the same distinction again: the people who've committed themselves to Christ now have "spiritual interests" as he calls them. Whereas those who haven't made that commitment are following their unspiritual selves, and leading unspiritual lives.
It might not be a very precise way of talking, but there's a background to Paul's remarks. At the time Paul was traveling around, preaching and founding his little communities of Christians, the moral standards of the surrounding society were very tawdry and base. Especially in the big towns and cities people were caught up in making money and making a success of their lives materially. Winning the praise or the esteem of other people was a great priority. The popular entertainments of the time tended to be very crass - there was a great taste for plays and shows that were full of sex and violence.
The more things change the more they stay the same, perhaps. But in any case, all this added up to a popular culture made up of what Paul called "unspiritual interests" and "unspiritual lives".
Being a Christian on the other hand - being someone that the Spirit of God has made his home in, in St Paul's expression - obviously meant being different from that and putting a different set of principles into practice. Paul believed very strongly that when individuals get baptised and become members of the Church they're starting to share in Christ's life, and Christ starts to live in them.
And when that happens their ideas about what they want out of life and what they think will make them happy and so on cease to be selfish and indulgent and materialistic. They start taking on Christ's qualities instead, and they're liberated from the interests and motives and appetites that take shape at the lowest level of our nature.
In the gospel passage, Jesus' words follow on from what Paul was saying. He makes a distinction between two different types of people as well. There are people who are ďlearned and cleverĒ - and they're the ones God has nothing to say to. Then there are the people he calls "mere children", and they're the people who are close to God, the people who are on God's wavelength already.
A lot of people, as they get older, become wiser in the ways of the world. They acquire more worldly know-how, and if they want to get on in the world they need to be like that. They know how to calculate their own interests shrewdly and how to manipulate other people to get what they want.
They're "learned and clever" when it comes to fallen human nature, but at the same time, they're often very childish people in their moral attitudes. Quite often the ďhigh-achieversĒ of the world, successful politicians and businessmen and the like, are ruled by motives like jealousy and spite in their personal and their working relationships. If somebody scores a point off them, they canít rest until they've scored a point back.
Obviously, when Christ says that God has revealed his Kingdom to mere children, he's not talking about that sort of childishness. It's the people who grow up and mature in the spirit of the world who remain childish.
People who grow up and mature in the spirit of Christ get rid of childish attitudes like jealousy and revenge. But what they get in their place is a kind of child-like quality, a lack of worldly sophistication, a moral vision that's simple and truthful and free from the aggrandizing tendencies that cause people to exploit or trample over others.
Iím sure youíll remember the story by Hans Christian Anderson in which everyone is admiring the Emperor's New Clothes. Itís a little girl who shouts out that in actual fact the Emperor isnít wearing any clothes, he's naked. The only person who told the truth was a child who hadn't learned yet to tell polite lies, convenient lies.
Occasionally we meet individuals who have retained that quality. They've kept a basic, and even black-and-white, sense of honesty that makes them unadept at any kind of pretentiousness or game-playing and uncomfortable with the attempts people make to disguise vested interests. It's not that they see selfish motives at work where they're not, it's more that they havenít learned very well to go along with the deceptions and illusions of adult life the way most of us have done.
On the other hand, people like that, who are basically good and truthful people, who aren't trying to exploit anyone, often get used themselves. Part of the message of Godís Kingdom taught by Jesus is that itís better to run the risk of being taken advantage of through the purity of our own motives, than to become the clever, worldly-wise type of person who takes advantage of others.
This is the simplicity, then, that Christ wants us to have when he talks about "mere children" having a better knowledge of God than the learned and the clever. It's nothing to do with being sentimental about children or romanticising the ignorance or the gullibility of children. There's no virtue in being gullible.
But there is a virtue in being simple and uncomplicated in our moral vision, and there's a virtue in seeing through self-serving deceptions rather than co-operating with them; and that's what Jesus was getting at, I think, when he said that the mysteries of the Kingdom are revealed to mere children, but hidden from the learned and the clever.