Human evolution is a growth process that children, youth, and adults experience.
Though there are plenty of narratives out there that try to convince us adults that we hit an evolutionary wall at some point and therefore do not change or have the ability for a paradigm shift—I argue that we are always evolving, always changing, always becoming. We don’t have to be stuck or stagnate. For sure, there are obstacles in front of us if we engage in the continuing process of personal growth and change. One of the main obstacles is baggage, something I’m sure all of you are well aware of. Baggage is that part of our identity that is informed by what people have told us about ourselves, who they have said we are from the beginning and who they say we are today. Now some of that can be positive, don’t get me wrong. But it’s still an obstacle to growth, because the old paradigms that people give us are just that—old. They are past.
When we engage in human evolution the old paradigms don’t work anymore.
And that’s a conflict.
Jesus of Nazareth, in the Gospel stories, is a great example of growth, becoming, and the encountering of the various voices in our lives that try to name us or tell us who we are or where we belong. People were constantly defining Jesus’ identity and today, it is still going on. Which is why Jesus’ poignant questions of “Who do people say I am” and “Who do you say I am” are completely relevant—not just for the Gospel stories, but for our stories.
Human evolution, simply put, is about asking these two questions:
What is self?
What is other?
Jesus was defined by others but rejected those definitions. Jesus was becoming, and this becoming led Jesus to eat, sleep, and drink with those on the margins—the poor, the sick, the forgotten, the shunned, the so-called unclean. This is how Jesus of Nazareth defined self—that Jesus was with those who suffered, those that society and even religion had rejected. And in doing so, Jesus saw himself as “with” them and they were no longer “other” to Jesus. This is precisely why when Jesus was asked about the living out of the greatest commandment [love God, love yourself, love neighbor], Jesus responded with stories about a good Samaritan and children. They were the neighbors, they were the wisdom-bearers. Yes, children.
See, in Mark’s Gospel story, Jesus was passing through Galilee but stealth-like. Jesus didn’t want anyone to know. Why? Back to what I said earlier. People were defining Jesus in a certain way and this led to trouble. So Jesus and the band of followers made it to Capernaum; and got to a house. And once again, Jesus had questions for the followers. “What were you arguing about on the way?” See, apparently those who walked with Jesus had been arguing with each another about who was the greatest disciple. This, after Jesus had just tried to tell them not to call him Messiah or to promote him as some kind of political or religious leader. And yet, they were still at it; the ego trip continued.
So Jesus sat down. Was he tired? I don’t think so. Jesus sat down to make a point. You want to be first in line, the greatest? So then be last in line, give up your place, serve others. This probably made no sense to those who were listening. Which is why Jesus needed to illustrate the point by holding up a little child. You welcome this kid, you welcome me. And welcoming this kid/welcoming me means you welcome Yahweh.
This is a paradigm shift—an evolution to a new way of seeing ourselves and the world. Jesus wasn’t an evangelist or someone seeking to build a religion.
Jesus was leading a movement, mostly of people on the margins of society—a human towards community and reciprocal love and away from hierarchies and power.
In the community Jesus was trying to build, children and anyone else who was considered “least” were just as important as he was. Yes, kids were [and are] not valued enough. Their opinions and wisdom have much to teach us.
And even more significant, I think, is how children remind us that we are constantly evolving, continually moving and changing. Daily we can discover ourselves and learn to see the world and those around us in a different way. When we welcome the child among us, when we welcome the child within us—we welcome the possibility of growth.