I was at a Mass at Chalus in France today and from what I could understand with my limited French, the priest was saying that being a Christian is all about love, not about being intellectual. He was, of course, using the Gospel for today (Matt 1:25-30),where Jesus says “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.” The problem is that if we leave it at that, if we say that all we have to do is love one another and love God, then we actually haven’t got very far. The next question we might ask is “But how do I actually love others in real life situations?”
Indeed not just this question but any number of other questions actually follow from almost anything Jesus says; and maybe that is why he said that we should be like little children. Those of you who have had to deal with little children will know what I mean. There is a wonderful stage in their lives, before they learn to be careful and a bit more like us so-called learned grown-ups, when they ask endless questions – sometimes embarrassing ones – of their poor parents. It is clear then that to be true to Christ must mean asking lots of questions even ones that the grown-up bit of us thinks might be regarded as stupid or silly. Lots of us fail to ask questions because we fear that they might show up our ignorance ; but as St John says “Perfect love casts out fear.”(1 John 4:18). So if to be a Christian is to love, and yes it is, then to be a Christian must mean being prepared to ask questions even if they make us look silly.
Sometimes I long for people to do this. We have a Group in Eynsham that meets every Thursday evening to look at the Bible Readings for the coming Sunday. We do it by reading them aloud first and then after a few minutes of silent meditation on them, I ask each person in turn to share something from the Bible passages that means something to them. Some people pick just one word or phrase and leave it at that. Others will try to identify a theme that can be found in all the readings. But we have one lady, thank goodness, who almost always asks a question. I am so pleased when we reach her, not least because it is often a question others would have liked to ask, but did not want to in case they looked silly.
Priests have the same problem. Many do not like to be asked questions in case they do not know the answer. I have heard how some people have been told off for asking questions after Mass on Sunday. How sad that is. Unless we become as little children we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, and that definitely includes priests! I still wish more people would ask me questions, and that includes those questions to which I haven’t got an answer. Surely it is good for people to hear the priest say “I am sorry, but I will have to go away and think or pray about that.” How sad if people get the idea that the faith is like a series of questions that every priest has the answers too, rather than a pilgrimage, and adventure into God, where there is always something more for everyone to learn.
One of the reasons I like using the Internet for my Homilies and Facebook is because people seem less scared of asking questions online than face to face. Either way, let’s encourage one another to be more childlike in our faith – to ask and ask away on any number of topics, and never be entirely convinced by the answers.
“The learned and clever” condemned in the Gospel today are therefore not those who use their minds to explore the faith as well as their hearts to love God. No, the learned and clever are those who think they know all the answers and are indignant if anyone trips them up.
To be humble is therefore not to be mealy-mouthed and subservient. True humility, the humility that Jesus recommends, is surely something very different. Look at him challenging all sorts of people in positions of power and influence. He is loved by ordinary people precisely because he asks the questions that others are too frightened to ask, and then tells simple stories which, instead of giving direct answers, make people ponder on the mystery that is God. That must surely be the way to go for those of us who wish to call ourselves the children of God.