Musings on Scripture

– and what isn’t always said

9th July 2017 (Trinity 5)

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

“Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest”

Matt 11:15‑30 (15-19 and 25-30)

15If you have ears, then listen!

16‘To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market‑places and calling to one another,
17“We played the pipes for you, and you did not dance;
we lamented, and you did not mourn.”
18John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He is possessed”; 19the 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.’

20Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his miracles had been done, because they did not repent. 21‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22I tell you, on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades, for if the miracles performed in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24I tell you that on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.’

25At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the learnèd, and have revealed them to infants; 26yes, Father, for such was your will. 27Everything is entrusted 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.
28‘Come to me, all who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

Text © Steven Secker.

The Greek verb used in verse 15 literally means “to hear”, but the meaning is clearly far more than that, so I have translated it as “to listen”. We often hear without listening, but Jesus is telling us things to which we need to listen, and not just to hear the words. We sit in our churches and ask ourselves why people are not coming to church as they used to; we have talk-fest after talk-fest trying to fathom why our numbers are in decline, and people still don’t come. Are we listening, or just hearing?

John the Baptist came from the wilderness to preach repentance and to baptise people, and he was described by some as “possessed”, because he challenged the status quo, and he didn’t eat “normal” foods, or drink in “moderation”, whatever that might mean. The text doesn’t say ‘in moderation’ but, given that almost everyone drank wine, the context surely means that. Jesus came, eating and drinking – because He knew that the way to a man’s heart (and presumably to a woman’s also) was through the stomach, and was duly labelled a glutton and a drinker. If someone comes into our lives and challenges the status quo, or wants to fraternise, to get to know us through meeting over a meal (at which wine is also served, as per the custom of the day), how do we react to that person? Do we label them “possessed” and so unworthy of our attention, or do we listen, rather than just hear, take note, and contemplate our response to the challenges which each brings? Is the man or woman who ministers to murderers, thieves, or child molesters cast out for daring to follow in Christ’s footsteps because such action requires us to associate with sinners? All too often we support human “wisdom” instead of that of God, which we will ultimately acknowledge is far better than ours.

Skipping over verses 20-24, as listed in the Revised Common Lectionary, we find that Jesus thanks God for hiding the truth from those who are wise, and those who consider themselves to be learnèd. We could read into that those who have focussed so much on higher education degrees that they have lost contact with what their studies can do to benefit everyone. I used to provide recordings of conference talks, and at one session someone with a Ph.D. asked how to fill in the very simple order form, such was the focus on one area of learning. Surely, you would think, those who are wise and learnèd would be the best to understand what Jesus had been saying; but that’s not the case, because there are so many closed minds, so many blinkered views, and so little understanding of how others learn that these are often among the worst people to bring the Good News. God chose those who were not wise, not learnèd, and simple in approach, to spread the word; Jesus chose fishermen and a tax collector among His inner group, and He chose not to reveal the Father to the religious establishment. Let those who have ears, listen.

The last two verses of this passage will be familiar to anyone who has listened to, or performed Handel’s “Messiah”. We are encouraged to turn to Christ particularly when we have strayed from His presence and find ourselves tired and over-burdened. If we turn to the gentle and humble-hearted Christ then the stresses and concerns that we carry are made easy, and the burden of them is made light. That may have been written nearly 2000 years ago, and made famous in the 18th century, but it is as relevant today, and to us, as it was across the millennia. Isn’t it interesting that when we move our focus from God we get tired and over-burdened, but when we return to the fold our yoke is easy and our burden is light?

Yes, I did miss verses 20-24. As we read the passage in church we will see many good messages for us. When we miss parts of a passage I always ask if those verses have a message which some of us don’t want to hear. In this case I believe that is true.

Christ wasn’t complaining about the “wise and learnèd” people of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, for not listening and acting on what they had learned, but the less educated people, who, having seen miracles performed, and listened to Christ’s teachings, still didn’t do anything to amend their ways. One way of looking at that is to say that if you do something wrong out of ignorance there is no sin, but if you do wrong knowing that it is wrong then there is sin, and sin requires confession and a commitment to avoid the sin in the future if at all possible – allowing for human weaknesses – for it to be forgiven. A contemporary scenario to fit that issue is the institutional response to child sexual abuse and the willingness to cover up misdemeanours when they have been exposed, rather than address the issue and repent, which, you may remember, involves a turning around. In our human weakness, and in the absence of God’s direction, we might be tempted to go overboard, and create more openings for sin by removing the opportunity for church leaders to relate to children at all. After all, there can’t be sexual abuse of children if there are no children present to sexually abuse. Naturally, that is only one form of abuse which occurs in organisations, so we need to be vigilant in other areas, to listen to those who feel they are abused, and to address those concerns without sweeping them under the carpet. These verses from Matthew’s gospel warn us to do what God wants, or we will be condemned to Hades even if we nominally declare our allegiance to Christ. No wonder they are excised from the reading in church. Can we learn from our mistakes? Of course we can, if we trust God, truly repent, and use our ears to listen.

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