Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Genesis 2:18-24
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 128:1-6
Second Reading: Letter to the Hebrews 2:9-11
Gospel: According to St. Mark 10:2-16
“Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”
Whenever Jesus begins a statement with “Amen, I say to you” it should throw up a huge warning that whatever follows must be taken with the utmost seriousness.
In class, I like to use the image of a Dutch door when I talk about this passage. It is not surprising that most of my students do not know what a Dutch door is. So I get to explain to them that a door that is comprised of what is essentially two half-doors, a top and a bottom, is a Dutch door. These doors, called “Dutch” because they were common both in the Netherlands and in those areas of New York and New Jersey settled by the Dutch, enabled the top to be opened for air and communication while the closed bottom kept animals out and small children in. For example, a mom could talk to someone outside without the concern of a stray chicken or two entering the house or an inquisitive child or two wandering out.
On the other hand, the top could be closed and the bottom opened, and this is the use of a Dutch door that is relevant to the point that I make in class. There is great comedic value in the ability to slam shut the top of an opened Dutch door, but only if the would-be intruder is over three feet tall. A small child could easily walk under the top half of the slamming door, and thus the humor of the situation gets turned on its head.
Through our “adult” behavior we are constantly running into the top half of the Dutch door that serves as the entrance to the Kingdom of God, and we never seem to get tired of these unsuccessful attempts. It is a universally understood belief that insanity can be defined as performing the same activity over and over again while each time expecting a different outcome, yet this is how we live our lives in relation to Jesus’ warning about what will keep us outside His Kingdom.
All of our supposed grown-up behavior and attitudes, all of our sophistication, might make us pretty impressive in the eyes of the world, but they don’t cut a lot of ice with Jesus. Children, on the other hand, are the opposite of grown-up and sophisticated. They do what they do and like what they like not because the world has told them what cool people do and what cool people like, but because they personally enjoy doing and liking whatever it is that they are doing and liking. They are themselves, not an image of themselves that they think they should be.
Certainly what we do and what we like will change as we get older, but the question needs to be asked: Why? If it is because our tastes have changed, then that seems like a valid reason. I didn’t used to like asparagus and now it is my favorite vegetable, and not because asparagus is cool, but because asparagus now tastes good to me.
But if we change our likes and dislikes because of the need to be cool and from a fear of what others might think, then we probably need to re-evaluate our priorities. If I no longer believe and act on what Jesus, through His Church, teaches me because the sophisticated people around me no longer believe and act on these things then I have begun to play for the opposing team – whether I believe that I have or not.
Giving in to the lure of sophistication as opposed to embracing the discipline of the Gospel is not a new temptation. It goes all the way back to Eden when the serpent challenged Adam and Eve to be cool and sophisticated rather than continue to have childlike trust in God’s directives. What seems to be more recent is the utterly pervasive attempt towards sophistication that drives our culture.
There was a time when the culture actually helped us to be childlike and unsophisticated, when the culture looked – imperfectly because made up of humans – to Christ and His Church for guidance. It was the time of Christendom, the time before all of the revolutions that formed the modern and decadent West.
We probably shouldn’t be surprised that in that allegedly benighted time known to the enlightened and sophisticated as “the Dark Ages” the Latin verb sophisticare didn’t mean “cool.” It meant “to ruin through impurity” or “to adulterate,” and we all know what Jesus has to say in today’s Gospel about that topic.