After watching the movie “Honey, I shrunk the kids!”, I was once again reminded of the relevance of size in our daily lives.
To many, size implies importance, power and reliability. The bigger the size, the more weight it carries and hence more importance. The same mentality is seen among the Christian churches too. The bigger the building, the larger the congregation, the more respect the church gets. The size of the church budget may also play a role. It is sometimes called the syndrome of size.
When the disciples heard about the kingdom of heaven, they thought Jesus was talking about an earthly empire and they started asking who among them was the greatest. Presumably that person would assume the most powerful position in Christ’s empire. Even the parents began to lobby for their children. “Jesus, when your kingdom comes, let my sons sit next to you, one on your right and the other on your left,” pleaded a mother.
Jesus showed them a child and explained to them that the door to heaven is very small. Only those who are extremely small can get in. Even then, you cannot take anything inside with you. His advice for them was: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3) The modern paraphrase would go like this: “You must be shrunken first.”
What did Jesus mean? How do we change and get shrunken?
We have to use a little imagination and extend the metaphor in the movie.
Imagine a shrinking machine. It does not use ordinary electricity. Instead it uses a kind of powerful shock wave called ” humility”. It can shake people to their core and change them inside out. In the process, it also creates a very uncomfortable feeling in their whole system. It makes them flushed, nauseated and even angry. The way it works is that if they tighten up when connected to the humility machine, such as making a first or wanting to fight, it will automatically double its voltage. Ask anyone who have used the machine, they will tell you that it is never a pleasant experience.
But, like Jesus said, it is the only way to get small enough to go through the entrance into the heavenly castle. Indeed, according to the epistle to the Philippians, the apostle Paul tells us that, in His incarnation, Jesus went through the humility machine Himself.
Why is it so unpleasant or even painful to go through the shrinking machine? Why is it so difficult to become like a child?
To become like a child is to give up control, to lose our independence, to be stripped of our titles, to be weak and vulnerable, to be helpless and powerless. All along, the surrounding culture teaches us to be strong, tough, independent and self-sufficient. To become like a child would be counter-culture. That is why some people are infuriated by weakness; they are disturbed by the cry of a child. Weakness awakens hardness and anger in them. That is why so many people are afraid of getting aged.
To be small, to be sick, to be aged or to be dying are stages of powerlessness. They appear to us to be anti-life and so we deny them. That is why it is so difficult for us to become like a child.
Yet if we deny our weakness and the reality of death, if we want to be powerful and strong always, we deny a part of our being and we live in an illusion (1). It is only when we accept our weakness and vulnerability that we become truly human. In other words, to become like a child is to be truly human.
When Jesus was born as a child in the manger, He became truly human.
He not only showed us what true humanity is, but also demonstrated what true humility is. “After being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (2).
True humility is no small matter. Humility comes from the Latin word “humus” which literally means earth, dust or mud. The humility machine reminds us where we come from and where we will go.
To put incarnation in a more contemporary way, we may say, “Honey, God shrunk His only begotten Son!”
(1) Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p.40
(2) Philippians 2:8