(A Reflection on Matthew 11:15-30)
Let anyone with ears listen!
‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,
“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.”
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’
Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum,
Will you be exalted to heaven?
No, you will be brought down to Hades.
For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.’
At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ (Matthew 11:15-30, NRSV).
The frustration of Jesus is evident.
Looking around at the very generation in whom he invested, he is reminded of the child’s chant: “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.” In John they saw a demon; in Jesus a friend of ‘sinners’. To this grace-tune few chose to dance.
But this is not the response heaven hoped for. Jesus wanted the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida to turn and live differently as a result of his widespread healing, multiple miracles, and grace-filled teaching. His life and call reveal the divine desire to see us embrace the lives we were created to live. God’s intervention is not without purpose.
Just like these ancient cities, we may miss this call completely. Heaven, however, lives in the hope that we will re-turn. Repentance is the u-turn Jesus came to inspire.
Jesus’ prayer reveals that it is often the ‘wise and intelligent’ who seem unable to see this need. It is more easily noticed by ‘infants’. There is a link here with the singing children’s insightful song. The ‘young’ see something the ‘adults’ are missing.
Initially this seems uncomfortably linked to the ‘will’ of the God who hides and reveals. This God, however, is also depicted handing all things over to the God-reflective, and grace-filled, heart of Jesus. God and Jesus desire your heaven-opened eyes.
There is no disconnect between the Jesus who invites and the God who gives the authority to do so. Jesus’ ‘Come to me, all…’ is a God-initiated welcome to learn life from the gentle and humble heart of God’s Christ.
And it is also the place we find our desperately needed restoration.
Jesus’ ‘Woe’ to these cities surely points to a human responsibility in repentance. Fortunately, however, repentance and discipleship are not simply left to us. Jesus’ ‘yoke’ rests over two animals. Although they stand side-by-side, it is the larger and stronger who leads and shoulders the bulk of the burden. Aligning ourselves with Jesus is the easier option because the weight is shared.
Perhaps, however, paralleling with Jesus is more possible for those who acknowledge their weariness and sin’s weight. It takes a humble – even child-like – soul to admit to such need.
But this is not weakness. On the contrary: if Jesus is ‘gentle and humble’ it is a God-like strength.