I remember the Bill Cosby version of the late 1990s, some of you might remember Art Linkletter who used this program both on his radio show and then on his TV series from the 1940s to the late 1960s. In response to a question, a young child would respond with some type of cute response. We would laugh. Kids say the darn’dest things.
In our Gospel today, Jesus reminds us that kids have a faith and often see things, understand things, that us adults miss or have forgotten. Sometimes what we need to hear, is what a child has to offer us.
Two years ago, Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on his right side. A month after the stroke, all the senator could do was lie in bed - he couldn't swallow, he couldn't sit up, he couldn't move. The senator was devastated. Among the many get-well cards and letters Senator Kirk received was this:Kids say the darn’dest things.
Dear Senator Kirk,
My name is Jackson Cunningham. I live in Oakwood, Illinois, and I am nine years old. Last year on February 19, 2011, I had a stroke. I was a healthy kid. [Then] I couldn't move a muscle on my left side. After a month in the hospital, I went to RIC [Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago]. After the first two days they took away my crutches and I have been walking since then. A lot of therapy helped . . . This past fall, I started school again. I go for half a day. I am still doing therapy on my left side. I can talk fine . . . I wanted to wish you good luck. Here's some advice: Do not give up on yourself. All the hard work is worth it. They make you work hard [in rehab] and you get lots of things back fast.
Jackson's letter was the beginning of a fast friendship that continues to this day. They regularly exchange letters, sharing their passions for Legos, baseball and video games, as well as keeping each other updated on their individual progress and cheering each other on. They have also gotten together several times in Chicago and Washington. Senator Kirk and Jackson have also appeared together at various events to raise awareness about strokes and the resources available to help the victims of strokes and their families.
Before his stroke, the 54-year-old senator described himself as a "pessimist," "a half-glass-empty kind of guy." But no more. "Here I was," Senator Kirk writes, "a grown man and a senator of Illinois, getting advice from a young boy I had never met. But his words were exactly what I needed. He gave me such strength . . . Jackson showed me how he could run, and I immediately felt inspired. It made me believe that one day, I would run again too.
"As for my recovery, it came just as Jackson said it would. After a year of intense therapy, I climbed to the top of the Capitol and returned to work on January 3, 2013. With every step I took, I thought of Jackson and his strength. He helped me climb those steps that day." [People, September 30, 2013; Reader's Digest, May 2014.]
When Christ calls his disciples to embrace the simple faith of "little ones," he is not saying that we should be children. Christ is calling us, instead, to embrace a faith that is centered in the "simple" but profound love, compassion and hope of God. Which we as adults often forget and kids do not. In Jackson's reaching out, Senator Kirk comes to see the possibilities for healing and purpose in his life despite his illness. May the "wise and learned" among us embrace the spirit of generosity and directness of "little ones" just like Jackson Cunningham.
And then Jesus takes it a step further and invites us to participate in, that easy yoke he has, for all of us to take that light burden on and share it with others. Our challenge is to live out of such love in our lives that the wisdom we have from Jesus is vindicated by the deeds that we do.
One of the masters of Zen Buddhism is a priest named Tetsugen Doko, who was the first to translate the holy books of his faith, the Sutras, into Japanese.Wisdom is vindicated by our deeds.
In the 17th Century, the priest sought to print several thousand copies of the books in order to make the texts of his religion available to everyone. He traveled the length and breadth of Japan to raise the money for the printing. Rich and poor alike donated to the project. The priest expressed equal gratitude to each donor, whether their gift amounted to hundreds of pieces of gold or a few pennies.
After ten long years, Tetsugen had enough money for the printing. But just as the making of the holy books was about to begin, the river Uji overflowed its banks, leaving thousands of people without food and shelter. The priest halted the project immediately and used all of the money he worked so hard to raise to help the hungry and homeless.
Then Tetsugen began the work of raising the funds all over again. It took another ten years of travel and begging before he collected the money he needed to publish the holy book. But an epidemic spread across the country. Again the priest gave away all he had collected to care the sick, the suffering and dying.
A third time Tetsugen set out on his travels and, twenty years later, his dream of having the holy books printed in Japanese was finally realized. The printing blocks that produced the first edition are on display at the Obaku Monastery in Kyoto. The Japanese tell their children that Tetsugen actually published three editions of the holy book -- the first two are invisible but far superior to the third. [from wikipedia & connections]
Jesus invites us to embrace the joyful sense of fulfillment that can only be realized by “learning” from his example of humility and gratitude, to take on his ‘yoke’ of humble, joyful service to one another as we journey together to the dwelling place of God. Like Tetsugen, we proclaim the Gospel most effectively and meaningfully not in words but in the deeds of generosity and compassion we extend to others.
May our work for justice, for love, for hope, our dedication to reconciliation & forgiveness, our welcome to all who approach our tables, make the word of God, a living reality in our own time and place for the youngest among us to the oldest. Amen.