Passage: Matthew 11:20-30
11:20 Then Jesus began to criticize openly the cities in which he had done many of his miracles, because they did not repent. 11:21 “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. 11:22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you! 11:23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be thrown down to Hades! For if the miracles done among you had been done in Sodom, it would have continued to this day. 11:24 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for the region of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you!”
11:25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and revealed them to little children. 11:26 Yes, Father, for this was your gracious will. 11:27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son decides to reveal him. 11:28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 11:29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 11:30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.”
Soul Search Essay
“…Jesus began to criticize openly the cities in which he had done many of his miracles, because they did not repent.” In this quote’s pericope (a fancy word for a chunk of writing), Jesus has been calling cities to account by name, but for what? Jesus is confronting these Israelite cities (Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum) for not listening to him to the level needed to act on what was heard and seen. Certainly, the people Jesus is confronting heard him and saw him. The actions they took based on sight and sound were not the right ones though. They let salvation slip by them. In his charge, Jesus challenges them that infamously evil Gentile cities (such as Sodom and Sidon) would have repented on hearing him and seeing the acts that he has done in Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida. He indicates that the Gentiles in the infamous cities would infact listen to the level needed to act, yet the Israelis in their own cities did not.
Is this a blame transaction as described in the last essay? Is Christ blaming Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida? Certainly, many people unfortunately (and inaccurately) assume or even see God as punitive and judgmental. These harsh beliefs suggest that God has the biggest blame market in existence. Is this true? I argue the answer is “No.” Jesus engaged in confrontation of disregard, of indifference, of inaction.
Yes, confrontation can be (and often is) used in a blame transaction. Human use of blame, however, does not define God or his actions. Also, confrontation grounded in truth (whether by human or God) is not blame. It is a challenge to the confronted person to become, in that moment, an agent of choice. It gives the confronted the chance to act in those moments as an agent of choice by providing a new or previously disregarded information and perspective.
Confrontations done in truth by God are often acts imposed on a person (a agent potentially capable of change) or they are pronouncements of inescapable judgement (or both in sequence as here). The fact that the choice is imposed by such a powerful being as God makes it at least uncomfortable, if not also shameful, embarrassing, angering, frightening, etc. Discomfort or being deeply unsettled due to truth is not bad. It is frightening. Confrontation is unpleasant, perhaps fear inducing. Confrontation’s discomfort and disturbance, however, is necessary in salvation choices and after salvation as well.
Jesus’ miracles and statements in these cities were disruptive, shocking, and for many induced discomfort. The discomfort is induced by the wrongness of their lives in comparison to Christ’s words and acts (which is where the shame comes in).
Yes, the miracles created joy for those who benefited, but that was not each miracle’s primary purpose. What Jesus did was for a larger purpose than happiness or comfort or even healing. Jesus served his Father. In that service, he injected life into these cities by walking, talking and acting with a radically different agenda focused on very different elements; Kingdom elements that demand consideration.
Verses 11:23-24 make it clear that the citizens of Capernum (at least, but implicitly Chorazin and Bethsaida as well) now face devastating judgement (no salvation) due to ignoring the opportunities Jesus’ miracles and statements provided. In essence, their failure to act was an act. It was a choice. Passivity in choose did not protect them.
Rejecting discomfort and disruption caused by Christ injected truth can lead to destruction; even if done passively.
For believers, the destruction is not total (not loss of salvation), but it is very painful to have pieces of our lives destroyed by our refusals, by our inactive acts. God imposed discipleship challenges hold out deeper Kingdom life to you post conversion. The life of discipleship is offered to us in many different ways and in many different venues. Yes, it can come through blessings. Can you accept, however, that God will challenge you through hardship? Can you accept that these challenges are absolutely not rejections? Not abandonments? Can you recognize that God expects a deep soul within you?
Rejection of these challenging opportunities bring death into your life. The death may be small – minor damage in a relationship, loss, low level sinful conflict, continuation of a destructive pattern in your life, etc. Repeated rejection, however, brings sustained sin and many horrors attend sustained sin. In fact, many wounds that we receive come from the sin of others. Jesus injecting his life in Capernaum could have decreased the rate of sin against others. Sin is not purely personal. It is communal. Jesus’ challenge to change to cities and his condemnation was of cities. He gave these 4 communities and opportunity to change their very fabric. They had to act though. They also had a window of time that Jesus invested in them.
Many options to change are time and/or situation limited. Some opportunities end when the confrontation ends. Why? Does God end them? As believers, we do not lose access to Jesus, the Father or the Holy Spirit. Sometimes though, God lets a challenge to us expire. Much more often – we end them. How?
We deny that the confrontation applies to us. We may do this immediately. We may do it once the confronter is gone, or perhaps, we deny that we should even be confronted. Regardless of our preferred avoidance method, too often we cease to consider the confrontation and its implications.
We disregard not only the substance of the challenge, we even avoid the meaning of the fact that we were challenged in the first place. These recognitions drop from our mind, from our radar, with little consideration. We just shut the window the challenge created.
These cities had moments as persons (agents capable of change) when the God of the universe literally walked in front of them, stayed with them, spoke to them and performed miracles for them. True love walked in their midst! Literally! Yet, the individuals failed to act. They did not repent. Does accepting Christ as savior increase our responsiveness to Christ? Yes. We have the Holy Spirit.
Maintaining the responsiveness is the challenge. Do we listen to the Holy Spirit? God’s quiet voice as Elijah learned is an important voice to hear.