Our reading for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost comes to us from the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. The early church of Matthew writes to us that Jesus had warned his listeners about social schizophrenia and hypocrisy in the early first century society. At that time, amongst his audience were persons who could be rightly judged as guilty when standing before the accusations of infantile social existence. Out of this conversation came an important message for the growing Christian community. These words admonish and comfort the church today…
“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates, ‘We piped to 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, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
Then he began to upbraid the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Beth-saida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
In this lesson we find the church continues in claiming the authority of Jesus. In this text of Matthew and its counterpart in Luke (both having their source in the “Q” document written in approximately 50A.D.), the merits and ministries of both John and Jesus appears as argued. We thus can consider that these were yet points of contention. This speaks of continued unrest concerning the “Christians” worshiping in the synagogue of the latter first century. Some synagogue leaders accepted each man as a prophet, but resisted citing Jesus as the Messiah. For others, John and Jesus were merely troublemakers, saying they challenged and created misuse of the Law and traditions of the elders. These contentions, present from the beginning days of Jesus’ ministry, obviously still caused stress amongst the various factions of the Israelite religion out in the wider world. Therefore the church of Matthew highlighted what the Lord had said about their own “generation”.
You see, Jesus had voiced a description of that generation as foolish. Our Lord compared the groups as children who would play and taunt each other from the dust, piously snickering “nah, nah, nannan-nah” even as important processions and matters came along. Engrossed thus in foolishness and argument, the opponents of Jesus were portrayed as frivolous by him. He said that they argued amongst themselves as life, expressed ultimately through weddings and funeral, would pass before them. History had already revealed to the infant Matthean church in Antioch, that be they Pharisee, Sadducee, or Zealot… no one… not even the witness of John nor Jesus.. could distract them from playing games on the footsteps of the temple.
The description of that generation brought the condemnation from Jesus concerning wisdom, that she would prove the telling. Jesus spoke woefully of them, that they were like persons of cities that had already rejected him. In this section of the reading, glossed over or omitted by many Lutheran churches, Jesus pointed to their foolishness. Indeed he had said that the "wise and prudent" in their own eyes would be brought down, and the "babes," would understand and answer.
We take special note of the writer’s recalling of the word “babes” as those considered “childlike”. From scripture we get that Jesus was not just speaking of those who would be baptized as infants in the future, but also those adults who would be given faith back then by the power of the Holy Spirit. He spoke thus about all lowly and powerless believers. We find here that Jesus, the Christ of God, reflected what had been said prophetically in times of old…
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth! Thou whose glory above the heavens is chanted by the mouth of babes and infants, thou hast founded a bulwark because of thy foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. (Psalm 8:1-3)
Thus it was that Jesus stood in front of those gathered, and reflected on the scribes and Pharisees. These were those who had proud conceit for themselves. He likened their behavior to children who out of temper, without reason, quarreled with all attempts to please. Jesus knew that the hearts of these Jews were more bitter and hardened against his miracles and doctrines, than those rabble-rousing Gentiles of Tyre and Sidon. Thus being Jews, he said the condemnation for them would be the greater. This was a fate that had been prophesied by one of their greatest prophets…
For, behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, is taking away from Jerusalem and from Judah stay and staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water; the mighty man and the soldier, the judge and the prophet, the diviner and the elder, the captain of fifty and the man of rank, the counselor and the skilful magician and the expert in charms. And I will make boys their princes, and babes shall rule over them. (Isaiah 3:1-5)
As surely it had happened to Israel in the days of Isaiah the prophet, the reversal was happening again. Jesus thanked the Father that he had hidden this wisdom from those who would make themselves judge over others. Instead he held up that God, in greatest wisdom, tears down the foolishness of those who think themselves as wise, and raises up the lowly. The lowly we might then consider were the twelve apostles, and also our Lord’s followers who came after them in witness in the church at Antioch.
When we of today’s church, as descendants of Matthew’s lineage, now appear before God as Father… we need remember to come before him with reverence and confidence. He sent Jesus as the Messiah (Deliverer), into this world to rescue us. You see, only God is capable to defend us from evil and to supply us with all good.
Note this! Our Lord stated a remarkable fact here in this lesson. The Father had delivered into his hands all power, authority, and judgment. Our Savior thus invites everyone that suffers beneath worldly oppression to unburden themselves from fruitless slaving for wealth, honor, and pursuit of pleasures. He came to free us from the challenge of establishing our own meek future.
As convicted sinners under the Law… those of us who know their distance from God and cannot obtain perfection before his judgments, are called to turn and face God. Acknowledging our human failure, we hear and know that Jesus has invited everyone to come to him for forgiveness and rest. This was the gospel call made in the church of Matthew. It surely had special meaning for them as they struggled amid troubles and persecutions, for these two verses appear nowhere else in scripture and come as gift through them. The writing tells us singularly that all who will answer in child-like fashion will receive reward.
Do not discount the offer… tying yourself to progressive fashion! I know… to accept the gift may seem very simple, even infantile… yet it is clear. Take upon yourself the light burden of the Christian faith and submit to Jesus’ divine authority. That authority was established by Christ from the beginning of all creation.
Learn of him. He accepts the willing servant, however imperfect. His commandments are just and good. His instructions even a child understands. Memorize them now… “Love God, and love one another!” Jesus taught beyond the Law’s condemnations and its complexities, those burdens that drove the ancient sages to their knees. Our Lord Jesus sets us free from this heavy load, and gives us his easy yoke. He turns our concept of the Law from oppressive condemnation to the greatest guide for fruitful civilization.
Yes! We know that this requires self-denial for our adult pride. It exposes us to difficulties as we realize our finitude… but the effort is abundantly repaid as we live in this chaotic world. What Jesus gives us is a light yoke tied to us with love. So strong are the instructions he gives, so fitting the encouragements and so gentle the consolations... that we may truly say that it is a pleasant load even in the face of persecutions. This was the message for us from the Christians in Antioch. Brothers and sisters… accept their testimony and cherish Jesus’ gift! Go to him daily in prayers for deliverance from wrath and guilt, from sin and Satan, from cares, fears, and sorrows. Do as the early Christians of Antioch and pray for yourselves and others. And know above all, that in Christ you will find rest for your souls.