A Mighty Child
Anthony Esolen on an Apostle’s Encounter with the Son’s Children
Always the same annoyances when the Teacher entered a village. If he was followed by a crowd—from the beggars who hardly understood what was going on even when they were sober, to the elders with sharp eyes, from louts eager for a show, to women ready to weep and faint—you could be sure of a couple of things. Little would get done. A scuffle would break out. The innkeepers would run up the reckoning. And mothers with their children would appear.
What strange sympathy makes every mother think her child beautiful? No sooner would the Teacher be seated, looking wan from the journey on foot and the bad meals, and not a bed to rest his head upon, when toddling up to him would come the children. Some bear the scuffs and scabs of falls. The girls twirl their hair round their fingers. One has a runny nose.
Several are toddlers with nothing on but a smock, and sometimes not even that, padding about in the dust and the puddles, bottoms messy and stale. Almost all are missing teeth, and in awkward combinations. Their eyes are big and peer out of their round faces. They are drawn to the Teacher, though they have never heard him say a word, nor would they understand it if they did.
Inevitably they begin to press upon him, dirty-lipped and hungry, looking to him for who knows what. Then one day we friends of his, always on the watch for his comfort, now rising in our own esteem to the high station of managers, organizers, officials, cried out, “Clear away, there! Let the Teacher have some room! Madam, don’t you see that the Teacher is weary? Let’s have a little order here!”
At which he heaved a sigh and said to us, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” Rumpling the hair of one of the runny-nosed, he added, “Let them come, for the kingdom of heaven is peopled with citizens like these.” And he looked us in the eye. “As for you, unless you become like a little child, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
An Old Young Man
I thought he was just using a figure of speech. That was the way out—or in. You can drive a camel through a figure of speech. So I never gave his saying a lot of thought.
Who did, back then? We thought we were sharp observers, after all, grown men, and to be reckoned with. We had the angle on the chief priests, which of them were on the lookout for a Teacher like ours, and who in the Sanhedrin could be won over with the right word. We knew the right time to sit tight and the right time to move.
Great things were coming, we thought, but whenever we talked about the politics, which was often enough, the Teacher would walk off by himself or fall asleep. He was always going to Galilee when he should go to Jerusalem, or going to Jerusalem when he should go to Galilee. We scolded him about it, but he never listened.
We were important men with important things to do, older and wiser than our years. Sometimes we quarreled over who would be the councilors to sit at his left and his right, but we were all assured of becoming judges at least. As for becoming a little child, who could understand it? I would be like a child, let’s say, in my reacquired innocence, or in my obedience to the Teacher, or in some other way that you could age into, with dignity. That’s what I would do, and I was sure it would be good enough for him.
Anthony Esolen is a professor at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts in Warner, New Hampshire, and the author of many books, including Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan, with a CD), Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (Regnery), and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord (Ignatius). He has also translated Dante’s Divine Comedy (Random House). He and his wife Debra publish a web magazine, Word and Song (anthonyesolen.substack.com), on poetry, hymnody, language, classic films, and music. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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