13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
I’m going to ask you a question that you might find surprising. Is knowledge always a good thing? Are there ever times when you wish you didn’t have so much information swimming about in your head? So many experiences and influences upon which to draw when making decisions or offering opinions? Is there ever an argument for knowing less rather than more?
The older we get, naturally the more informed we become and here’s where we have to be careful because the more informed we become, the more likely it is that we will become opinionated, judgemental and dismissive. A bit like the disciples in the reading who dismissed the idea of little children being brought to their boss, Jesus, probably because they didn’t want him being bothered by what they considered to be tiresome and annoying little children.
But here’s the thing… as little children, we have a lot less knowledge than adults do. We have less life experience, less understanding and fewer influences upon us. Is this why Jesus welcomes the little children to be blessed? Because they are innocent and because their imaginations and creativity are not limited by experience or knowledge?
Let’s take the tooth fairy as an example. As a little girl, I believed that a tooth fairy would fly through my window, take away my tooth and leave me ten pence under my pillow. Why would there not be a tooth fairy? I had not yet been exposed to the cynical laughter and mocking ridicule of my older sisters who knew full well that the tooth fairy was actually my dad (and an unusual fairy at that with no wings, size 11 feet and no pretty pink tutu as far as I know).
Or think about Disney Films that spark children’s imagination and creativity. Little children (and not so little) have no problem with a snowman who talks or a genie who leaps out of a lamp… after all, why shouldn’t a snowman talk or a genie jump out of a lamp? Children take these things at face value, their reactions are natural and intuitive, uninhibited and usually joyful.
That is the innocence of childhood.
You might look back on your childhood photos and cringe at yourself dressed up as spiderman or running around naked in your swimming pool, but the cringes only come because you are now older, more informed and with more life experience. And whilst knowledge and experience is a good thing, it changes who you are and how you react to things.
Sometimes I think it would be good for all of us to go back to the innocence of childhood.
That is why when I go to an art gallery, I don’t listen earnestly to the audio guide as it explains the meaning behind a painting or a piece of mind-boggling sculpture. I like to look at art without being told anything about it. I like to create my own story when I look at a painting, rather than be restricted by the interpretation in the guide or by the artist’s notes telling me what it is I am looking at. I like that opportunity to be an innocent, unadulterated onlooker, judging something quite simply for the impact it has on me at the time. I want to consider things in my own way without prior knowledge or the influence of others…a bit like a child.
But of course, I am not suggesting that we should stay uninformed.
The acquisition of knowledge and development of your understanding are wonderful things. Learning how to think for yourself, how to weigh up an argument, how to come to a rational decision – all of these skills are important.
But so too is the joy, freedom and delight that young children express in their uninhibited laughter, their openhearted affection and their trust in others.
These are characteristics that we could all benefit from holding onto whilst at the same time we grow in knowledge, experience and understanding of the world in which we live.
If we can actively listen to others, reserve judgement and bite back the opinionated comment that is teetering on the tip of our tongue we might discover room for more child-like laughter, more joy and more trust in one another.
Give it a go…and look out for the tooth fairy.