Matthew 21:15-17

THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE SIMPLE IN HEART

Matt. 21:15-17

When the chief priests and Scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children shouting in the Temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were angry. “Do you hear what these are saying?” they said. Jesus said to them, “Yes! Have you never read: `Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings you have the perfect praise’?” And he left them, and went out of the city to Bethany, and lodged there.

Some scholars have found difficulty with this passage. It is said that it is unlikely that there would be crowds of children in the Temple Court; and that, if the children were there at all, the Temple police would have dealt swiftly and efficiently with them if they had dared to cry out as this passage says they did. Now earlier in the story Luke has an incident where the disciples are depicted as shouting their glad cries to Jesus, and where the authorities are described as trying to silence them (Lk.19:39-40). Very often a Rabbi’s disciples were called his children. We see, for instance, the phrase my little children occurring in the writings of John. So it is suggested that Luke and Matthew are really telling the same story and that the children are in fact the disciples of Jesus.

No such explanation is necessary. The use that Matthew makes of the quotation from Ps.8:2 makes it clear that he had real children in mind; and, in any event, things were happening that day in the Temple Court which had never happened before. It was not every day that the traders and the money-changers were sent packing; and it was not every day that the blind and the lame were healed. Maybe ordinarily it would have been impossible for the children to shout like this, but this was no ordinary day.

When we take this story just as it stands and listen again to the fresh, clear voices of the children shouting their praises, we are faced with one great fact. There are truths which only the simple in heart can see and which are hidden from the wise and the learned and the sophisticated. There are many times when heaven is nearer the child than it is to the cleverest men.

Thorwaldsen, the great sculptor, once carved a statue of Jesus. He wished to see if the statue would cause the right reaction in those who saw it. He brought a little child to look at the statue and asked him: “Who do you think that is?” The child answered: “It is a great man.” Thorwaldsen knew that he had failed; so he scrapped his statue and began again. Again when he had finished, he brought the child and asked the same question: “Who do you think that is?” The child smiled and answered: “That is Jesus who said: `Let the children come to me.'” Thorwaldsen knew that this time he had succeeded. The statue had passed the test of a child’s eyes.

That is no bad test. George Macdonald once said that he placed no value on the alleged Christianity of a man at whose door, or at whose garden gate, the children were afraid to play. If a child thinks a person good, the likelihood is that he is good; if a child shrinks away, a man may be great but certainly he is not Christlike. Somewhere Barrie draws a picture of a mother putting her little one to bed at night and looking down on him when he is half asleep, with an unspoken question in her eyes and in her heart: “My child, have I done well today?” The goodness which can meet the clear gaze of a child and stand the test of a child’s simplicity is goodness indeed. It was but natural that the children should recognize Jesus when the scholars were blind.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW (Chapters 11-28)

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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