Gerald May, in his beautiful book about St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, says this:
When we were children, most of us were good friends with mystery. The world was full of it and we loved it. Then as we grew older, we slowly accepted the indoctrination that mystery exists only to be solved. For many of us, mystery became an adversary; unknowing became a weakness. The contemplative spiritual life is an ongoing reversal of this adjustment.
For me, this is almost a paraphrase of Jesus’ statement that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Children are comfortable with mystery and willing to risk failure in a way that allows them easy access to the Kingdom of God. We might pause and wonder why we listen to cultural discourses that wish to convince us to surrender the sense of mystery that we knew as children, and worse, to become suspicious of it.
As adults, we tend more towards the Pharisee than the Publican in Jesus’ parable. The same voice that convinces us to sit in judgement on other people also whispers that we must dominate and control everything. Control allows no sense of mystery. The idea that there is something that lies outside of control’s reach is anathema to the part of us that rejoices that we are not like other people. If we’re comfortable with mystery, we acknowledge that we have no idea whether we’re like other people or not. We know something of ourselves, but not everything, and we certainly don’t know what motivates or drives others. We might be better in some ways and much worse in others. But we have no way of knowing.
It’s easy to understand why Jesus tells the disciples this parable when he does. They’ve just been hearing about the end times, subjected to a description of loss and devastation. “Don’t lose heart,” he says. “Pray always.” You might feel like you’re being abandoned in your distress, but you’re not. Something is dying. Something is being destroyed. But that destruction brings you closer to God, not further away. It strips you of the sense that you can control the world, that you are a master of the universe, that you are better than anyone else. It opens you wide to mystery, and this only feels like a violation if you lack the mind of a little child, to whom mystery is a friend.