The great 20th century thinker, Aldous Huxley, once said “Children are remarkable for their intelligence and ardor, for their curiosity, their intolerance of shams, the clarity and ruthlessness of their vision.”
Funny, now that I think about it, he’s right. Children have the power of a clarity of thought that is absolute and clear. No wonder they are so stubborn when they want something. It simply never occurred to them that they didn’t have the absolute right to have what they want when they want it!
Of course, we adults know better (or at least we should). We know that with maturity comes the ability to see the nuances in life and to understand that complexity sometimes means we have to adjust our desires, our timetable, and our behaviors.
But there are two dangers in both of these places – childlikeness and maturity – and they have to do with forgetting the power of both and failing to hold both together.
In our Gospel Lesson today the Lord teaches Peter and the disciples about this powerful paradox of mature childlikeness. And He uses something as mundane and despised as “taxes” to do it!
Look at Matthew 17:24-27; 18:1-4: At that time, the collectors of the half-shekel tax went up to Peter and said, “Does not your teacher pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came home, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook, and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel; take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
There is nothing that marks the passing into adulthood and all the responsibilities of being an adult like the day you realize Uncle Sam is taking a portion of your paycheck. I remember thinking “Who is Fica, and why does he get some of my money?!?” You’re a grown up and you now have the responsibility to pay taxes. Boy, do I miss the carefree days of being a kid and having somebody else take care of all this adult stuff!
But notice how the Lord holds these two realities in tension to then teach us how to keep the best of both worlds and grow in faith!
The Adult part shows us the power of our will. We choose to be responsible adults and by exercising our freedom to choose to be mature and responsible we create a pattern of choices and behaviors that allow us to be at peace with our responsibilities. It is by abandoning childISHness that we grow up as leaders, examples, and trustworthy guides to the next generation.
But we are also called to hold onto the ChildLIKEness that allows for a peaceful clarity of wonder and hope and love. We are called to exercise our ChildLIKEness to hold onto our clarity for dependence on God and His grace and His guidance. Only by keeping the best parts of childhood will we ever be able to grow up and accept the responsibilities of adulthood!
Today, are you able to hold these two wonderful worlds together in your life? When it comes to responsibilities, are you able to be an adult and shoulder those responsibilities? When it comes to being childlike, are you still able to clearly see the joy in life and the wonderful naivete concerning sin and “grown up” fantasies? Embracing the best of both of these parts of who you are and meant to be is key to embracing a purposeful Orthodoxy and a lifelong practice of the Faith meant to keep you a child and grow you up to be Christlike!