Matthew’s Question

I remember the first time I heard the gospel.  I don’t remember the sermon that followed. I remember the reading.  I can’t have been more than 9 or 10 years old. It was the Sunday before Nativity, probably the first Christmas after my mom’s parents had passed away. Taking my place in the gospel’s honor guard, I strained to hear the long list of Hebrew names as the priest rattled through Matthew’s genealogy. (Matthew 1:1-25) Against all odds, I had embraced my dad’s Near Eastern mindset, so I intuitively understood patriarchy and lineage, even at that age. It was never explained to me. I just picked it up from my dad. So I was puzzled–even shocked–by the genealogy’s ending. “How,” I thought, “could they call Jesus the son of David?”  It was Joseph who was David’s son and he was not the father of Jesus.  Even if Mary were a daughter of the same family, “Mary,” I puzzled, “cannot not carry the line.”  Ignoring the questions of the adults around me, I had stumbled upon the right question–Matthew’s question.  Posed to a child without adult intervention and weathered by time and study, this nagging question continues to drive my “asking” and “knocking” on Scripture’s door, as I “seek” the wisdom in its pages. (Matthew 7:7)  Taken from a personal example, this experience embodies the mission and purpose of the Ephesus School. It also explains why, with unbridled enthusiasm, I sat down this week to read Nahum to a room full of kindergartners.

This was not the first time I had read Scripture to little children in a classroom setting, and I know why adults in church resist doing so.  Adults today do not respect children, and modern education does not respect knowledge. C.S. Lewis famously anticipated this problem in his work, The Abolition of Man:

The difference between the old and the new education will be an important one. Where the old initiated, the new merely ‘conditions’. The old dealt with its pupils as grown birds deal with young birds when they teach them to fly; the new deals with them more as the poultry-keeper deals with young birds— making them thus or thus for purposes of which the birds know nothing. In a word, the old was a kind of propagation—men transmitting manhood to men; the new is merely propaganda.” 1

Instead of knowledge, we focus on method theory. Instead of grappling with wisdom, we embrace narrow synthesis. We speak of “learning how to think” as though a child can learn to swim without jumping into water. Why? Because synthesis is convenient, easy, and facilitates control. We tell our story in lieu of God’s story. We make ourselves a god. Reading Nahum to children does not require synthesis. On the contrary, it precludes it. When an adult simply reads, using examples to explain–not a contrived moral–but the actual meaning of written words, it may take an hour to get through Nahum 1:1-3, but in that precious hour, the children are given a fighting chance to become, not ours, but God’s children.

If someone tells you it is impossible to teach Nahum to children, or insists on a curriculum; or simplicity; or synthesis; or the need to make learning fun; or a children’s bible; or on anything outside of the text itself: Ask them if it is possible to explain the words “avenging” (1:2) or “whirlwind” (1:3) to a five year old. Ask them if a child can learn how to pronounce “Nahum” properly in Hebrew. If they persist in their denials, then they should not be allowed to teach. Mary cannot carry the line.

Annunciation

Notes:

  1. Lewis, C.S., The Abolition of Man, Chapter 1:Men Without Chests

One comment

  1. Here’s a long-ish quote, but helpful for the discussion. From Fr Zossima in “The Brothers Karamazov”:

    Friends and teachers, I have heard more than once, and of late one may
    hear it more often, that the priests, and above all the village priests,
    are complaining on all sides of their miserable income and their
    humiliating lot. They plainly state, even in print—I’ve read it
    myself—that they are unable to teach the Scriptures to the people because
    of the smallness of their means, and if Lutherans and heretics come and
    lead the flock astray, they let them lead them astray because they have so
    little to live upon. May the Lord increase the sustenance that is so
    precious to them, for their complaint is just, too. But of a truth I say,
    if any one is to blame in the matter, half the fault is ours. For he may
    be short of time, he may say truly that he is overwhelmed all the while
    with work and services, but still it’s not all the time, even he has an
    hour a week to remember God. And he does not work the whole year round.
    Let him gather round him once a week, some hour in the evening, if only
    the children at first—the fathers will hear of it and they too will begin
    to come. There’s no need to build halls for this, let him take them into
    his own cottage. They won’t spoil his cottage, they would only be there
    one hour. Let him open that book and begin reading it without grand words
    or superciliousness, without condescension to them, but gently and kindly,
    being glad that he is reading to them and that they are listening with
    attention, loving the words himself, only stopping from time to time to
    explain words that are not understood by the peasants. Don’t be anxious,
    they will understand everything, the orthodox heart will understand all!

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