Jesus calls us to be childlike—and forget about using our ‘inside voice’
A Reflection for the Nineteenth Tuesday in Ordinary Time
The disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”
He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said,
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever becomes humble like this child
is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
(Mt 18 1-4)
In college, I had the opportunity to audit an “Intro to Voice” course (it would have been reckless to take it for a grade). Our professor, a soprano who had sung in Italy’s most famous opera houses, filled our classroom with joy and a rich, sonorous voice.
Today, I’m a pretty serviceable karaoke singer, but that’s about it. But I still remember her key insight that she taught us: Recover the booming voice you had as a child. That meant not to fear getting loud.
We spend a lot of time teaching our children to “use their inside voice” or speak at the same volume as the adults in the room. My voice teacher believed that while we’re all born with Puccini-capable voices, most of us have it Shhhh’d out of us by the time we reach adulthood.
“How do I become the greatest in Heaven?” the adults in the room ask Jesus. He points to a child in their midst.
I was thinking about my singing lessons when I read today’s Gospel. Children naturally are going to observe and model the behavior of close adults in their life, but is that always a good thing? Should the adults sometimes be modeling the child’s behavior instead? That’s what Jesus seems to suggest today. “How do I become the greatest in Heaven?” the adults in the room ask Jesus. He points to a child in their midst.
Jesus’ teaching undercuts the premise of the disciples’ question, and it flows out of the message of the Incarnation: God comes to us humble, meek and defenseless as a baby, not as a petulant, powerful king.
Presumably, most of you don’t need me to point out the thin line between being childlike and childish. But perhaps today we ought to spend some time praying about the way children move through the world: deeply curious, unabashedly dependent and yes, sometimes a little loud.