Kids know how to receive presents, don’t they?
Any Christmas memory will do to prove the point. I remember the huge adrenaline rush of coming downstairs and seeing this mountain of brightly wrapped stuff beneath the tree.
Almost salivating with anticipation. Sick with excitement.
And yet, as anyone who has witnessed small children in action will tell you, they will quickly abandon the gift and play with the box, or simply enjoy the wrapping paper.
So it’s not quite the quantity or quality of items, but the sheer joy of the act of receiving. Kids know how to enjoy The Whole Thing.
My wife Val was brought up in care and had a bunch of miserable memories of early Christmases in various orphanages. But she told me of this one time, in a new foster home, when she was given the bicycle which she had longed for, but did not trust herself to hope for. And yet there it was. Wrapped up but unmistakable. She quivered with joy.
She knew what she had wanted, and she was all but overcome with the joy of getting it.
Kids are good at those things.
Luke 18 tells us a group of stories, encounters and a bit of teaching on this theme.
The first story is about a pushy woman who knows what she wants, insists on it, and gets it. Fair play to her, says Jesus. He called it faith, and encouraged his listeners to go for it. To pray and to not give up on your dream.
The last section in the chapter is about a blind man who hears that Jesus is passing and he yells and screams, despite all the angry shushing, until Jesus notices. “What do you want? Jesus, asks, perhaps unnecessarily, “I want to see!” Jesus heals him, calls it faith, and that’s it.
In the middle of the chapter is that familiar little story of a bunch of kids who want to get to Jesus. The disciples “rebuke” them. Come on now. Don’t bother him. He’s much too important for all this noise and fuss. Jesus moves the bossy disciples aside, welcomes them into his arms, and instructs the listeners that this is how you receive the good gift of the kingdom.
Get the thread?
How do you receive the good news?
The trouble with being an adult is that you forget to have fun. You forget to enjoy the good things in your life. A little po-faced, a little too serious. Jesus told an old intellectual that he’s do better to start all over again. Be young.
So the chapter contains another couple of stories: the two guys go into the temple. One is a Pharisee who is all full of himself; the other is a tax collector who is all full of guilt. Jesus tells us that the guy with empty hands is filled and the guy with full hands is sent away empty.
“The rich he has sent empty away.”
It’s the same in the story about the Rich Young Ruler. This wonderful, powerful, David Beckham of a role-model comes to Jesus wanting eternal life. Jesus shrugs and says: Do the law! Imagine that. The guy says, modestly we trust, that that has been his pattern all his life long. “And Jesus looked at him, and loved him.” He must have seen something really great there.
One more thing then, he said. Give away your possessions and come follow me. A sort of St Francis type of deal.
The young man goes away sad, because he has a whole bunch of stuff.
He couldn’t receive.
A while back, after the morning gathering, Val and I were invited to a really splendid Sunday lunch, Turkey and Ham and Roasties and all good things. We tucked in heartily. We left, somewhat bloated, mid-afternoon, and headed out to the next group where we were due to minister. The local leader asked us to stop by at his house “for a cup of tea” before the meeting got going. But as we walked in the house we smelt the familiar smell of Turkey and Ham and Roasties and all good things.
We were just too full to receive.
I have to hear this loud and clear: It’s the hungry who will enjoy the party. It’s the blind who will receive sight. It’s those broken with guilt who will receive mending.
It’s those who push for it (like the pushy woman, like the blind beggar) who receive. It’s those who know exactly what they want (like the children too!) who get to Jesus. The rich find it really hard, the self-satisfied don’t have a clue what they’re missing.
I remember an episode of The Simpsons when Homer gets his hand trapped in a beer dispenser in a burning building. It transpires that that the reason his hand remains trapped is that he refuses to let go of his can of beer.
And so it is with us. The stuff that we cling on to is so pitiful, so foolishly trivial. The reward that we seek is so massive, so incredibly life-changing.
And it’s our very brokenness, our blindness, our hunger, that makes us eligible to receive.
Children know how to receive. Learn from them.
So I have to stay vulnerable. I have to stay uncool, passionate, excited about the things of God. Recall those Christmas memories again and use that language to describe how you think about God in your life.
Sick with excitement.
Almost overcome with anticipation.
The adrenaline rush that leaves me quivering with joy.
- Monday’s Devo: Losing Your Flavor? (spiritualsobriety.wordpress.com)
- “Seeing & Following” Mark 10:46-52 (philipbschmidt.wordpress.com)
- Paulo Coelho on Jesus… (thisfragiletent.com)