Note One: Last week I saw the musical “Godspell” and in it Jesus utters a line that he really might have uttered at some time (in Aramaic, of course). “Did I promise you an answer to the question?” For some other thoughts about reading the New Testament, I hope you will check out my other blog, With Faith and With Feathers (http://withfaithandwithfeathers.blogspot.com) – the entry for June 17.
Note Two: If you would like to print one entry for a particular week, or the schedule of readings, but don’t want to print everything that’s posted, here is how to do that. With your mouse, right click and highlight the material you would like to save to be printed. Under the computer’s edit tab, click copy. Exit the web site and open a new document in your word processing program. Paste the copied contents into this new document. You can save this document, and/or print this document.
Matthew 11:1: In some of the gospels, Jesus’ instructions to his disciples about mission are followed by their actual going out and reporting back. Matthew does not include any such report. He continues to tell the story of Jesus’ ministry, of preaching and teaching. Matthew, in this transition statement does not mention healing. His focus in the coming section will be more on Jesus’ teaching and on contrasting the work of Jesus with others.
Matthew 11:2-6: If you remember from chapter 4, John the Baptist has been arrested. There will be more about John’s arrest in chapter 14. John sends disciples to ask Jesus if he is “the coming one.” Given that some continued to follow John even after Jesus’ followers became the church, not all would have been convinced by the response reported here. But this response is very telling. Go and tell John what you see and hear: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. Then he adds another beatitude. Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me. When we are asked why we are Christian we should be able to respond with what we have seen and heard for our own lives. We can share what Jesus has done for us without asserting that we have all the answers, or that others who see Jesus in a way that is different from us are all wrong. Sharing our faith begins with sharing our own story.
Matthew 11:7-19: Here we have an extended riff on the figure of John the Baptist. It is both laudatory and forward-looking. Jesus shows deep appreciation for John’s ministry. He is a prophet in the mode of Elijah. But God is up to something more in Jesus. How clearly Jesus may have asserted this in his ministry is a matter of debate, but it is an important part of Christian faith – that God was up to something very special in the life and ministry of Jesus, so special that all those who work for God’s kingdom after Jesus are even greater than John! There is a section in these verses that puts John and Jesus on relatively equal footing – presenting God’s kingdom from different angles. John was more ascetic, Jesus more celebratory, but even with these options, many did not respond to the new thing God was doing. In our own lives we have times when we need to be more disciplined and times when we need to be more celebratory, and we need to pay attention to these changing needs in our spiritual lives. Two other verses are quite interesting. Verse 12 speaks of the kingdom coming with violence. This is may be a tongue-in-cheek criticism of the way political regimes (Greek and Roman) ruled with violence and proclaimed themselves the rule of God. The kingdom Jesus proclaims will come in a very different way. It can also mean that people are struggling to be a part of God’s kingdom. Verse 19 – the ending phrase – “wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” (New Revised Standard Version translation, the one I am using most often in this blog) is captivating. Wisdom is feminized, an important acknowledgement that there is a feminine element in the person of God. Jesus uses the phrase to speak of the deeds of John and of his own. They are “wisdom’s children.” Through them the wisdom of God calls to each of us, inviting us to be a part of God’s work, God’s kingdom, God’s dream for the world.
Matthew 11:20-24: Jesus speaks harsh words to those who have witnessed his deeds of power, but have been unmoved by them. His language seems more rhetorical than literal. His goal is not to seal the fate of those on whom he is pronouncing judgment and woe, but to again invite them to turn around (repent) and re-orient their lives. If not, they may find that they have wasted their lives, that much of what they worked for really belongs on a burning trash heap. Jesus was not beyond using strong words to get the attention of his listeners.
Matthew 11:25-30: If Jesus can sometimes resort to harsh rhetoric to get the attention of his audience, he more often offers inviting images. Here Jesus thanks God for grace in helping those who are often left out and devalued find their place in God’s love and care. It is not so much that God has actively hidden things from “the wise and intelligent” as that the wise and intelligent are sometimes too smart for their own good, so self-reliant that they fail to realize the we all are recipients of grace, we all benefit from things we did not create ourselves. Theologian Bernard Meland puts this well, even if in language that may be rather philosophical and abstract. The nexus of relationships that forms our existence is not projected, it is given. We do not create these relationships; we experience them, being given with existence. And from this matrix come resources of grace that can carry us beyond the meanings of our own making, and alert us to goodness that is not of our own willing or defining. This goodness in existence, which we do not create… creates and save us (Fallible Forms and Symbols, 151). The gospel writer has Jesus affirm his close connection to God, again, a central Christian affirmation. And this Jesus says to us all – come, come rest and learn. Jesus draws from the language on an inter-testamental Jewish writing, Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Ben Sira (Sirach). Here is a short quote from that work. Draw near to me, you who are uneducated and lodge in the house of instruction…. I opened my mouth and said,”Acquire wisdom for yourselves without money.” Put your neck under her yoke, and let your souls receive instruction; it is to be found close by. I really appreciate Eugene Peterson’s rendering of verses 28-30. Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. What more needs to be said.
More commentary on Matthew 12-15 coming in the next couple of days.