The Common Good

The Gospel According to Charles Dickens: Suffer Not the Little Children

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.
Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

When I imagine Jesus telling his disciples, “Let the little children come to me,” I have a vision of the adults moving aside and Tiny Tim with his crutch crawling into the lap of Christ. 

In the scene where Tiny Tim is introduced, his father tells this story of him:

“Somehow, he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas-day who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”

It is this child like faith that moves Scrooge to ask the Ghost of Christmas Present if the boy would live to see another Christmas. The spirit answers that he sees an empty chair at the next Cratchit Christmas. Scrooge begs for the future to be changed and the boy spared.

It is then that Scrooge is punished by hearing his own words spoken back to him by the Spirit:

“If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

Children remind us what faith is. When they overflow with joy and excitement it is contagious. Their ability to let worries and concerns fall aside and be fully present in the midst of a celebration should be an inspiration and challenge to our often distracted way of remembering holidays.

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 18. Tiny Tim is the model for the conversion that Scrooge is experiencing. It is in the innocence of a child that Scrooge is able to see how far he has strayed from the way he is supposed to be.

The next stop, is to Scrooge’s nephew. The Dickensian description of the nephew’s laugh is memorable:

If you should happen, by any unlikely chance, to know a man more blessed in a laugh than Scrooge’s nephew, all I can say is, I should like to know him too. Introduce him to me, and I’ll cultivate his acquaintance.

His forgiving spirit is displayed when one of Scrooge’s nieces tells the assembled revelers that she has no patience for her uncle.

“Oh, I have!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “I am sorry for him; I couldn’t be angry with him if I tried. Who suffers by his ill whims? Himself always.”

The nephew goes on to say that even if Scrooge rails against Christmas until the day he dies he will continue to invite the old man to be merry. It is worth it, the nephew concludes, if the only thing his well wishes do is to get Scrooge to be kinder to his clerk.

Here Scrooge is able to observe that the good being done to him from his nephew is not a means to an end, but an end in itself. Like the nephew has determined to celebrate Christmas even though it has never put a scrap of silver or gold in his pocket, he has decided to be kind to his uncle whether or not it ever does the nephew a bit of good.

Gifts we give at Christmas are often reciprocated. But, there is something different about the gifts we give that can never be paid back for or are given in secret.

Jesus taught, “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:3, NRSV). 

Scrooge had a fear that the only reason kindness would be shown to him was as a means to get at his wealth. When he observed his nephew telling others that he had no desire but to see his uncle have a little cheer in his life and charity to others; he could see kindness being done for its own sake.

The faith of Tiny Tim and the sincerity of his nephew broke down another barrier and buried another excuse in the heart of old Scrooge.

Tim King is Communications Director for Sojourners. Follow Tim on Twitter @TMKing.

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