Kids say the darnedest things. I remember well when, a few years ago, Lars and I took my daughter to visit my grandmother at her retirement community. Claire, who was four at the time, looked at my then ninety-eight-year-old grandmother and sweetly asked, “Are you going to die soon?”
Lars and I nearly died of embarrassment ourselves.
The blunt honesty of young children can cut through adult pretensions like a laser. Consider this passage from Matthew, where the honest, unselfconscious testimony of children exposes the Pharisees as spiritual frauds. It’s a topsy-turvy story in which the children are the true priests and the priests are spiritually immature.
The first of this story’s series of inversions occurs when Jesus overturns the tables of the money changers.
Temple worship had been corrupted by commerce. The temple authorities allowed money changers and animal sellers to set up shop in Court of the Gentiles—the only place in the temple complex where Gentiles were allowed to go. In effect, that decision robbed the Gentiles of a sacred space to pray. It reveals that Temple worship had turned inward on itself. The Jews were supposed to be a light to the Gentiles, but instead had their religion had become a sort of self-serving legalism that propped up the authority of the Pharisees.
Jesus clears the temple in a moment of righteous anger and restores it to its proper purpose: a place of worship for all people.
The second moment of inversion comes when the children respond to Jesus’s actions by declaring an inconvenient truth. “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
The Pharisees wish to shut the children up. “Can you hear what they are saying?” they ask with incredulity.
I love Jesus’s confrontational response: “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” Zing!
Leading the people in worship is the main job of a priest. But since the priests have failed to do this, children have taken their place. The children don’t care about the precarious geopolitical situation of the Jewish people in occupied Jerusalem. They are blissfully unaware of the power struggles between the Pharisees and the Sadducees over who will exert religious control over the Jews. The children call it as they see it: “Hosanna to the Son of David.”
The Bible makes it clear that Christ will be praised—the question is, by whom?
There have been many times where the evangelical boldness of my children has put me to shame. (Like the time Claire told her kindergarten classmate that he worshiped false gods. Yikes!)
Sometimes, I wonder if my desire to present a nuanced, culturally sensitive, intellectually sophisticated version of the Gospel just gives me excuses to water it down. Or to chicken out.
Today, the children give us this challenge: Do you believe that Jesus Christ is Lord? To whom, in unselfconscious joy, will you declare it?
Jane Olson is the director of children's ministries at Advent. Though her list of hobbies makes her sound a little too much like Martha Stewart for her own comfort, Jane genuinely enjoys flower arranging, baking, cooking, and wine tasting. She lives in Brookland with her husband Lars, and children Claire and Teddy.