You’re Invited – Reading is Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 (NRSV)
Decisions, decisions, decisions! Life is full of them, isn’t it. Some are small and relatively insignificant such as what to have for breakfast, or what socks to wear for the day. Other decisions are bigger with greater implications such as what course to do, or where to live, or what to do about that relationship.
One of the biggest (I’d say the biggest) is what to do Jesus and his teaching – whether to accept or reject; whether to accept or reject his invitation to come to him.
It’s not just a contemporary issue. It goes way back to the time of Jesus himself. The background to the section of Matthew we are looking at today is the imprisonment of John the Baptiser. John sends messengers to Jesus to ask: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (11:3)
The teaching that Jesus gives arises out of that circumstance. There are three distinct sections, all very different. But I think there’s a linking thread – what to do about his invitation.
One of the things I love about young kids is their playful imagination. I’ve observed it in our grandkids over the last few years, but in others too, including some from this Church. Kids are very good at making up games and imaginary worlds with imaginary friends that can absorb them for lengthy periods.
Jesus had noticed children playing in the marketplaces and he based his teaching in these verses on what he saw and heard. It appears they were playing weddings and funerals.
The playing of flutes and dancing were integral parts of Jewish weddings.
Wailing and mourning were very much part of their funerals.
As the children played their versions of wedding and funerals, they called out inviting others to join in… but they wouldn’t.
Jesus draws a parallel. John had lived an ascetic life. He warned people that the Kingdom Of God was near and instructed them to mourn their sin and repent. Jesus had been eating and drinking and partying with sinners and inviting others to join him.
It wasn’t that Jesus was opposed to John’s teaching.
- In fact, he tells the crowds earlier in this chapter that John was a great Prophet (v9-11) and a man without peer.
- Jesus himself started his public ministry with a similar message – according to Mark 1:15, “the Kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe the Good News.”
- And in the verses that the lectionary jumped over (understandably, but unfortunate in some ways), Jesus reproaches various cities for their lack of repentance.
Just as there were those who refused the children’s invitation to join in, there were those who refused the invitations of both John and Jesus despite their very different actions. Jesus was no doubt pointing the finger here at the Pharisees, though probably others as well. He emphasises his point with the proverbial saying “wisdom (divine wisdom) is vindicated (proved right) by her deeds (actions or fruit).” (v19)
This in effect is the message Jesus also sent back to John in prison. He told the messengers: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” (11:6)
The second set of verses (v25-27) is really a prayer that Jesus prays in public. Again, Jesus refers to children. He says things have been revealed to them that have been hidden from the wise and intelligent. It was the Pharisees and other religious leaders who were the highly educated ones and so again, Jesus is criticising them.
The so-called “wise and intelligent” tend to rely on their own abilities and baulk at admitting their powerlessness and inability. At the same time Jesus affirms the child-like faith and openness of those willing to accept him.
Kids not only have a great imagination, they also say the most amazing and profound things, at times. Here are a few I found on the internet. I can’t vouch for their veracity because there’s no real way of fact-checking them, but here they are anyway.
- Gideon, aged 6: If you listen very quietly, it sounds like the rain is playing music in the grass and the trees.
- Dylan, aged 6: Fog is just clouds that have fallen down.
- Greta, aged 4: I better go to bed now. I have a dream locked up in my heart that I need to let out.
- Jackson, aged 9: In my heart I’m still little.
- Owen, aged 5: Mommy, you never really forget things. You always remember that you forgot. So you never really forgot.
- Sawyer, aged 9: You can make a wish, but it’s not magic. People have to make it happy.
Jesus addresses his prayer to the “Father”. The term is used 5 times in just 3 verses (v25-27).
Jesus also refers to himself as “the Son” 3 times.
Here is an unmistakable claim to divinity and authority, and an implied invitation to acknowledge and accept that.
Unfortunately, the response of the religious leaders, the “wise and intelligent ones”, was rejection and opposition – opposition that eventually led to Jesus’ crucifixion.
In the final section (v28-30), Jesus turns once again to the crowed. He invites all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens to come to him.
The word translated weary usually refers to tiredness from hard, physical, difficult work, but is also applied more figuratively to emotional fatigue and discouragement.
The word for burden is generally used in the New Testament in relation to the burden of keeping the Law. Jesus criticises the Jewish leaders for loading up the people with burdens that are too heavy to bear (Mt 23:4; Lk 11:46).
We all know those feelings, don’t we – weary, burdened. You may have been feeling precisely that way as a result of all the turmoil of Coronavirus.
Jesus says: “Come to me and I will give you rest.” (v28) – “rest for your souls” (v29).
The rest that is offered is not one of idleness or inaction. Because Jesus also says “Take my yoke upon you”.
But because he is gentle and humble, he ensures that the yoke is easy to bear. In fact, it’s his yoke and he wears it with us and helps us bear it. That’s the implication of the phrase “learn from me”, just as an experienced and an inexperienced bullock might be yoked together.
Several years ago now, I was feeling a bit washed out and stressed about ministry. It happens some time. I attended a gathering of Baptist Pastors where these verses were read out in the Message Bible. They really ministered to me (or I should say the Spirit did through them). Let me read them to you in the hope they might encourage you too.
“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 to live freely and lightly.”
What a glorious invitation Jesus extends to us.
- It’s an invitation to mourn in repentance – a mourning that leads to dancing with joy.
- It’s an invitation to divine wisdom and to divine relationship.
- It’s an invitation to renewal and new life.
Decisions, decisions, decisions! You know what mine is. What’s yours?