A toddler’s tale
“I wont eat it,” a loud toddler’s voice shouts out.
“What’s wrong sweetheart?” says a gentle female voice.
“It’s got peas. I hate peas!” the toddler shouts again.
The woman, I take to be the little girl’s gran, does her best. She takes the peas off the plate onto her plate. But the girl keeps shouting, “I hate you!” before tipping her fish and chips across the table and onto the floor, screaming and crying.
I think just about everyone has seen, heard, or been on the receiving end of an encounter like that. That little girl was behaving badly, but she was very young. Perhaps she was tired, or stressed by being away from her mam. Whatever the reason, things were soon calm again.
If that had been an adult though, the police would have been called or at the very least the person would have been thrown out of the restaurant. We all know the difference between a toddler and an adult. We all have different standards for the two. After all the little girl will hopefully grow out of her tantrums.
The problems come when we adults keep on behaving like toddlers. I’ve seen it so often. Someone’s jostled in a crowded bar. No great surprise. A drink is spilled and a ‘grown man’ explodes with anger. It is so easy to become a toddler again. But God calls us to grow up and do better.
We all know that murder is wrong. But murder comes from anger and hatred. That is the simple point that Jesus makes in Matthew 5. Jesus, is telling his fellow Jews that although their law only says, “Do no murder” they need to do more. If they are to be God’s people they need to deal with their anger and jealousy and everything that can lead to murder. They are to set an example of what Godly behaviour should look like. As a holy people they are to encourage the rest of the world to want to be God’s people too, by their example.
Calling someone a fool, may sound mild but the part of us that makes us want to belittle and put down others is far from harmless. That inner bully, doesn’t die when we leave school. It’s very real in me and everyone, as far as I can see. That sort of behaviour not only damages the victim, it twists and corrupts the person making the insults, and all around. Jesus knows all of this, that’s why he does all that he can to get this message across. That is why he says that anyone who calls his brother a fool is in danger of been thrown into the fires of Gehenna. Not ‘hell’, but ‘Gehenna’. Gehenna was the smouldering rubbish dump outside of Jerusalem, the place where all that was disgusting was thrown. A place that would have repelled his hearers, like an open sewer would repel us.
Jesus’ use of he word ‘Gehenna’ paints a picture in itself. By using it Jesus is saying that by belittling others I am making myself rotten and disgusting inside. Again, Jesus was encouraging his fellow Jews to live up to their calling to be an example of Godliness for everyone. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to have happened. They mostly rejected Jesus.
Those words of Jesus from Matthew 5 now speak to me and all Christians today. I read and ask myself, “Am I any different to the people around me?”. I know that I am not a naturally good person but has the Spirit’s work in me made a difference? I hope so. I pray that the Father’s love is changing me. I hope my life shows something of the wonder of the God who loves me and lives in me. Still, Jesus’ warnings all those years ago help to stop me getting too full of myself. They remind me that there is still so much of the angry toddler in me; and I can do far more harm than just throw my dinner.
Jesus’ words remind me that the wrong things that I can do can do so much harm. They remind me that I still have so far to go… so I’d best get going.