When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. St. Paul, as we have been discussing for the past three weeks, is addressing a problem that often crops up in Christian circles. For the better part of a chapter and a half, Paul has reminded us and them that we are called together as a body. That body is made up of individuals just as a body is made up of limbs and organs. Each of those individuals, Paul reminds us, is gifted by God so that the entire body might fulfill His purpose. Unfortunately, we are seldom satisfied with that understanding. We, like the Corinthians, want a splashy gift. We want a gift with a “wow” factor. And so, like the Corinthians, we begin to rank the gifts and ask for, not what He wants us to have, but what we want and value. And so, ever the teacher, Paul reminds us that we are like children. What does he mean?
Think back, hopefully, to when you were a kid or when your own children were young. Children seem to know instinctively how to go about getting what they want. Initially, they cry about their needs. They cry when hungry, or when their diaper needs to be changed, or when they do not feel good. Then they move to nagging. Can I have a piece of candy, please? Please? Please? Please buy me that tow. I have been so good. And let's not talk about the tantrum/turtle on the floor designed to embarass us into capitulating to their desires. Sometimes, as they age, they move to the not-so-subtle hinting. Wouldn’t some ice cream taste great now? You know, if you bought me a car, I could run errands for you and save you time? Finally, if our parents have done their jobs or we have done our job as parents, the children begin to understand that the world does not revolve around them. At some point, the children begin to realize that we need to plan for our lives. Ice cream might taste good today, but do I want to spend the money on that or a movie? Ice cream might taste good today, but do I want to waste the calories on it? Long term goals become the focus rather than short term needs. As St. Augustine would say nearly 2 centuries after Paul, selfishness or self-centeredness gives way to self-discipline (Can you imagine either’s thoughts about our current economic mess in light of this teaching?).
Part of being a mature Christian is understanding how the body of Christ works. When self interest becomes the focus rather than the love of God or of the neighbor, then we are acting spiritually immature. Similarly, when we find ourselves envious of the gifts of others or even throwing ourselves a pity party because we do not think we really matter, we are acting spiritually immature. St, Paul reminds each one of us that we are called grow into spiritual adulthood. As we contemplate the work done for us, and the cost, we should find ourselves trying hard to put away the childish things and to put on adulthood. Yes, we will still make mistakes. Yes, we may find ourselves making impulse decisions (for now we see in a mirror, dimly), but we know that one day we will see and know Him as clearly as He has seen and known us. But the joy is that He loved us even when we were most unlovable (throwing tantrums, concerned only for our needs), and still He loved us perfectly and made it possible that we might one day grow up and receive His full blessing and fulfill all the plans and hopes He has for us.