Matthew 11: 16 – 30.
Jesus was speaking about the prophetic declarations of John the Baptist (John 11:2-14), prior to expositing further on the public reactions that John and Himself were facing with their complementary ministries. When their respective messages did not match the preconception of the accepted standards of righteousness during their day, both were rejected and killed. The Lord addressed three notable categories of individuals on their responses: the discontented (Matt 11:16-19), the self-righteous (Matt 11:20-24), and the overwhelmed (Matt 11:25-30).
Two groups of children playing among themselves at the marketplace are allegorised by Jesus to illustrate His pointed perspective of how John’s and His personhood were viewed seemingly through the eyes of infantile and irascible children. As an ascetic Nazarite, whose discipline included regular fasting and total abstinence from alcohol, John was deemed by the Jews to be demon possessed. Conversely, when Jesus came, eating and drinking in the company of tax collectors and sinners, He was stigmatised as a drunkard and a gluttonous man. Nevertheless, Jesus pronounced that in hindsight, the results of their respective ministries will vindicate them; viz., John’s call for repentance was a precursor to the arrival of the Son of Man, while Jesus’ labour among the disadvantaged and the sick, was good news to them. To tease out the confounding attitude reminiscent of petulant children at play is far more disturbing: it portrays an uncooperative arrogance and cynicism that refuse to countenance what God was doing, and totally discounting His work. In our present environment of increasingly antagonistic divergent views towards religion and spirituality, care is required lest we disparage the unobtrusive work of God’s Holy Spirit in lives that profoundly matter to Him.
The second group included those in various towns and villages who were privileged in witnessing the miracles and had heard the word preached to them by John and Jesus throughout Galilee. These cities would be judged for their appalling indifference and rebellious self-righteousness. These were compared to the wealthy pagan cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, whose citizens would have sought forgiveness for their sins if they were given the same opportunity to hear the gospel. What is indicative here is the sovereignty of God as expressed in His judgement of the nations where He alone adjudicates according to His will, despite the varying degrees of rebelliousness, sin, including idolatry, where His omniscience enabled Him to know which city would repent and which would not. Nevertheless, He preached in them! This brings us to an important point: everyone is accountable and responsible for accepting or rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ. And in accepting it, we continue to be held responsible for the influence of our spirituality in the workplace and in every sphere of life; where we are called to be the salt of the world and light set on a hill (Matt 5:13-20). When we abnegate this responsibility through secularising our faith, we also leave organizational polity, public policy and the state of our nation at risk to immoral and unethical governance, quite apart from neutralising our testimony in Christ. The unrepentant cities cited by our Lord provides us with a model to continue to profoundly impact our small corner of the world for His kingdom’s sake as best as we know how by His Spirit. The greater the revelation, the greater will be the accountability.
Finally, Jesus walks us through His characterization of ‘the overwhelmed,’ referring to them as ‘children.’ These are those who had embraced the gospel in obedience to the will of God. Why did God hide the gospel from the wise and the intelligent, only to reveal them to children? Childhood is prominently marked in a large measure by their unmitigated dependency on adults, and not leaning on their own limited immature resources; unlike self-confident intelligent adults. His work principally among the broken and the downtrodden brings into sharp focus this issue; where they were principally at the mercy of the wealthy and powerful, including the religious elite. When we are unable to save ourselves from sin and eternal damnation in order to satisfy God’s terms for eternal life, our humility in seeking His grace and forgiveness challenges the individualistic predisposition in all of us. In this context, our salvation is totally dependent on the work and grace of our Saviour. Faith, as a gift from God, is quite distinct from human cleverness when it comes to matters of belief and trusting God. In fact, it is Christ who chooses to whom He would reveal His Father. In one of the most clearly self-declared Christological revelation on His relationship with the Father, Jesus disclosed that the Father had given Him responsibility for everything. The whole created order, in the heavens and on earth (c.f., John 3:35-36; Col 1:15-20; Heb 1:1-3), had been given over to Him on the basis of their mutual and yet distinct omniscience and governance, to the extent that ‘no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him’ in time and space. Hence, to know the Father is to know the Son and vice versa! The ‘yoke’ mentioned is traditionally interpreted in the context of obedience to Jewish law and teachings. Just like children who are happier whenever boundaries are set for them as they are growing up, our existential spirituality in the here and now within the grace and love of God is enriched by our obedience to the teachings of Scripture. Jesus invites all to come to Him, to enter into a relationship with Him, and to follow Him in discipleship: “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.” Discipleship demands nothing less than a lifetime commitment and comprehensive self-denial, with righteousness that penetrates to the inner world of our thought and motives.