Wednesday on Public Radio, a middle school age girl read her essay dedicated to the subject of peace. She employed several images. The one that stuck with me is that of a baby. She described brushing the face of an infant with a rose petal, and the peals of laughter in response to the tickle. The girl mused in her essay that as the infant matures, the response of laughter to the rose petal would cease. Implied is the knowledge that as we age simplicity and uninhibited joy fades. Life becomes more complicated.
This is not to say that childhood is pain free. The needs and desires of small children are not usually articulated as requests. For all sorts of good reasons, small children can’t do or have whatever they want. But, I am struck by the flexibility of children. The outrage at unrealized expectations doesn’t seem to last long. Once a moment is past, it is past, and small children are on to something else, just as happy as previously.
Children seem to be very in touch with grace. They don’t spend much time thinking about what they deserve. There is the assumption that if a desire is expressed, it will somehow be met. This seems to come from the depth of their being.
Expectations and assumptions change. They become more restrictive later in life. Our Pharisee and tax collector are a perfect example. First, we see the Pharisee. He starts by thanking God that he is different than others. He has it all together. The Pharisee is certain that he knows the right questions and has the right answers. The Pharisee is so sure God must be happy with him. But, it is not reality; it is a show. It is all pretence.
The tax collector comes from a different place. He is well aware of his issues. He knows he is a rogue, ripping off his own people. The tax collector knows that he has fallen short. He is honest with himself and places himself at the mercy of God. The tax collector trusts God not his accomplishments.
On several occasions in the Gospels, Jesus uses the example of children. I can’t help but think that he is contrasting the open perspective of children to the closed perspective of the Pharisees. The tax collector strikes me as child saying sorry and expressing hope that the honest repentance will be accepted.
The tax collector bares his soul to God, uncertain as to what else he can do. He trusts that expressing the desire of his heart is more important than faking it, through articulating a litany of accomplishments. Righteous action is important, but action has little behind it without the heart.
Jesus seems more interested in the heart, than a list of fine activities. The heart is the starting point. Jesus contrast of those obsessed with proper action to those seeking interior transformation seems to bear this out.
The child on public radio is on to something. If we can stay in touch the simple and genuine joy found in a simple touch, maybe we could seek freedom from the selfish desire and pretense that draw us from God and one another. Maybe if we would focus on our hearts, we would truly act in meaningful and valuable ways. The Good News is that Jesus seeks to return us to that time, when we were open to joy and freedom. Jesus longs for us to know both in the very center of our being. It will only be as complicated as we allow it to be.