young and old

The camp meeting is over and things have quieted down here again. But it was a fun weekend. Like a family reunion, several people said. And I enjoyed seeing friends from Reba Place again.

The meeting seemed to focus on the interactions between the older and younger generations. New, younger communities (like The Simple Way and Camden House) were there. And also the young interns from Reba Place. Many from the older communities are looking for young people to give their groups new life, or looking to see the next generation of intentional communities. At the meeting they welcomed the energy, new ideas, and risk-taking industriousness of the young. And several younger people thanked the older ones for sharing their wisdom and humility, gained through years of experience.

But as I listened to this, I began to feel uneasy. Because it sounded so familiar. The young honoring the wisdom of their elders; the elders commending the industriousness of the young. Isn't this common to all societies? In some cultures the elders are more honored, in others (like ours) the young are exalted more, but all seem to value the strength of youth and the experience of age.

And doesn't Christianity offer something more than this?

I thought of the images of the strong young man and the wise old man (or woman), so commonly honored among us, and wondered whether Jesus ever held up those images as examples for us. Or if the model he pointed to was quite different...

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 18.1-3)
Not a strong young man or a wise old man, but a child.

Humility, energy, and wisdom are all good, but Jesus presented a different vision of these things. In variations of the saying above, Jesus used the child as a model for humility. It is not the humility of the older person who has learned it through repeated failures and disillusionment, or had it forced on them by encroaching weakness and dependency. It is the humility of the child who is happy to be protected and provided for, who doesn't want to be in charge. The humility that lets God be God, and is happy to be his child.

And the energy of children is also well known. But theirs is the energy of creative play. Not the driving dissatisfaction of the young person out to "change the world," not the pressure to "take responsibility" and "be a man." But the child's wonder and joy at what he has been given, and the satisfaction of making something with it. In another version of the saying, Jesus emphasized this childlike receptiveness: "Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." (Mk 10.15)

This humble, joyful receiving is also what sets God's Wisdom apart from the wisdom of human experience. Just as a child, close to the Source of their life, knows only by instinct and not by experience, true Wisdom comes, not from the hard knocks of human life, but from a connection to the Source, living Wisdom Herself. This is not our own accumulated lessons-learned, but the gift of God (through childlike faith). Paul emphasizes this difference in 1 Corinthians 1, concluding:
God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Cor 1.27-29)

Though every other society honors the strong young man and the wise old man, Jesus sets a child before us. Foolish in the world, weak in the world, low in the world. Shaming both young man and old man--and showing us the Way.