As Children, As Grown ups (A reflection on Mark 9.30-37)

Long-time readers will know by now that I love the quote from the physicist Niels Bohr, that the opposite of a great truth is also true. It’s an important idea and it’s linked to my fundamental theological maxim: that, in order to avoid idolatry and misunderstanding, we have to be willing to unsay everything we say about God.

I was reminded of these principles once again this morning in my lectio divina on today’s Gospel reading from the ninth chapter of Mark. It’s a familiar story that plays off of the standard “The Disciples Lose the Plot” trope. As they are walking through the country, Jesus talks about his upcoming self-sacrificial death, which is the culmination of humble, downward movement of the Incarnation and therefore the logical outcome of the way of Jesus in a fallen world. Because they are the disciples and always lose the plot, the disciples naturally take this opportunity to start boasting amongst themselves about who among them is the best. Jesus rebukes them by telling them whoever is to be greatest among them is the one who makes himself the lowest. And he takes up a child as an object lesson and tells them that to welcome a child is to welcome God. (In a similar story elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus tells them they themselves must come to God as little children.)

At first glance this teaching by Jesus might seem to fly in the face of the Christian teaching on growth and development that is the major focus of this blog. But again, the good physicist reminds us that the opposite of a great truth is also true. It is true that we must come to God as little children: humble, vulnerable, trusting, and reliant on God for our every need. And we must likewise welcome and care for those who come to God in that tender spirit. We need to run to God as the Prodigal Son, seeking forgiveness. We need to be able to say, as Jesus himself did, “This is what I want, but not my will but yours be done, O Lord.” We need to come to God, letting go of the ego and all of its tricks and attachments.

But when we do this, paradoxically, we grow.

By shrinking our egos, our true selves grow. By letting go of what is false and distracting, we gain more and more of what is real, lasting, and beneficial.

And so we are called to come as children, but we are also called “to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ,” and to “be no longer children, tossed to and fro” but to “grow up in every way into … Christ” (Eph 4.13-15).

This isn’t quite as sequential as it sounds; it’s not quite “we come to God as children and God grows us up into mature adults” — though there’s something to be said for that. Rather, both principles are always at work in us at the same time. We must come to God as children every day and we must grow up into maturity every day.

And so, as we go about our Tuesdays, let us be mindful of both of these truths. We must come to God as humble as children. We must grow in God into the fullness of God’s image and likeness. Thanks be to God.

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