"Wisdom and Her Deeds" – Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,
‘We played the flute for 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, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over 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.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 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.”
These words from Jesus today seem a little disconnected and strange at first, so bear with me. There are a lot of ways and angles on which a preacher could preach about this bit from Matthew’s Gospel. You could talk about the fickle ways of faith from those who didn’t like John the Baptist because he wouldn’t eat and drink like the rest of them and those who were suspicious of Jesus because he did eat and drink – they accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard and a phony, presumably, because he hung around with tax collectors and sinners. Even Jesus and John couldn’t please all of the people all of the time.
And then there’s that stuff at the end, where Jesus welcomes the weary. “Come to me all you who are carrying heavy burdens… Take my yoke upon you… learn from me… I’m gentle… I’m humble of heart… you will find rest for your souls… my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” I’ve done a whole thing with that before about God’s call and command to Sabbath and rest as a discipline of faith.
But this time around, I couldn’t stop wondering about the bit in the middle where Jesus talks about the infants. He says, “I thank you, Father, for you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent, and have revealed them to infants.” God has hidden something very important from the wise and the intelligent and, by God’s gracious will, he’s instead revealed those important things to infants?
But, like so much else in Scripture – and from the mouth of Jesus – this isn’t exactly what it looks like on the surface.
We know Jesus was good and welcoming to children and that he encouraged his followers to be the same way. That image of Jesus, sitting under a tree, with children and infants on his lap and under his arms, listening with awe and wonder and patience to whatever he had to say, is something many of us have seen or imagined before. If you can’t, or haven’t, check this out…it took me 4 seconds to Google and find this, and it was as cheesy as I expected.
But the truth is, people didn’t necessarily devote themselves to or dote on children in Jesus’ day, the way we do in this day and age. I suspect some of you, a generation or two older than me, remember what it means to say that children were to be seen and not heard, right? Can you imagine having an area in the church sanctuary of your childhood set aside for children to play and read books and color and giggle during worship?
So, if the status of children has changed as dramatically as it has just in the lifetimes of those of us gathered here, it’s not hard to imagine how different it was back in the days of Jesus. Children were as messy as ever, that’s nothing new under the sun, but there were no Pampers back then, so you might imagine the messiness a little differently. And besides that, infants and children were a drain and a drag in every way. They kept parents from their work. They cost money and demanded resources. Until they were old enough and smart enough and capable enough to work for the good of the family, they just plain weren’t worth very much as contributing members of society. Children were more like pets and pests, even, unless or until they could be trained up in the ways that they would eventually go. Last week, Pastor Aaron reminded us that child sacrifice was a common practice, which says something about their status and value in the eyes of society.
I think a more accurate picture of Jesus surrounded by some children would look something more like this:
So it’s no small thing that Jesus says God has revealed something very important to the likes of infants that is kept hidden from the wise and the intelligent. It’s another way of saying what we’ve heard from Jesus before – that God chooses the least among us to receive and to share, to bless and to be blessed by the grace and Good News revealed in Jesus Christ.
And all of that means Jesus wasn’t really, only talking about “infants.” It means “infants” was just one way of suggesting, once again, that the “least of these;” the last, not the first; the power-less, not the power-full; are the ones in the world for whom God’s Good News comes first and foremost and can be received most loudly and clearly and purely. Which means, too, then, that that same Good News can be hard to hear – hidden, even – from the wise and the intelligent; hidden from the “first,” not the “last”; hidden from the powerful more often than not.
Now, if I had asked you when you walked in this morning to identify yourself by checking a box, would you have checked “infant?” Or would you have been more inclined to check a box labeled, “wise and intelligent?"
Yeah. I think we are missing more than we realize – and more than we would like – about God’s grace and good news for the sake of the world, because our status and privilege and abundance and wealth hide that Good News from our eyes, too much of the time. So I cobbled together some passages from Scripture, the meaning of which might be hidden from those of us who live in a more safe, stable, reality compared to so many others in the rest of the world – passages that speak differently to the proverbial “infants” of the world than to the “wise and intelligent” Jesus mentions.
For example, the story of the Israelite’s release from slavery in Egypt would be received with a different kind of fullness and hope for African-American slaves in the earliest days of our nation, than it could possibly have been received – and obviously wasn’t – by their more privileged, supposedly “wise and intelligent” slave owners, right?
And think about how a resident of war-torn Syria this morning hears Psalm 46:
“God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”
That must come with a sense of hope – or maybe even impatience and despair – that I can only guess about.
Imagine what Isaiah’s prophecy to bring release to the captives and freedom to the oppressed has to say to the millions of refugees displaced and homeless, all over the continent of Africa. Imagine what those same promises of release and freedom would mean to a young girl being controlled and trafficked right here in our own country.
What must undocumented immigrants think and feel when they know you and I have received a command, like the one we get in the book of Exodus, Chapter 22, - not to wrong or oppress the resident alien, because we – the wise and the intelligent, if you will – were once aliens ourselves?
A person struggling with their sexuality or gender identity hears the story of the Ethiopian eunuch – blessed and baptized by Phillip, in the book of Acts – with a different kind of joy and vindication than I could ever wrap my brain around.
I spent some time at the correctional facility in Plainfield yesterday and couldn’t help but wonder what those men think if/when they hear Jesus’ invitation, in Matthew 25, to the likes of you and me to visit the prisoner – and that when we do, it’s as if we are visiting with Jesus, himself.
How must the family of the 8-year-old boy who drowned in Brownsburg yesterday hear the words of Psalm 121 – “I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come?”
And I could go on. But, please don’t misunderstand me. These words and promises – this Good News – from Scripture has meaning and depth and hope and promise for each of us in our own ways, too, at various times in our lives. That’s why we call it a living word. But what I’m challenged by this morning is Jesus’ reminder that we have a lot to learn from so many of God’s children who live and suffer and struggle and survive and hope and persist in this world in ways and under circumstances most of us are blessed only to imagine. In most cases, we are the wise and the intelligent in Jesus’ comparison this morning and so much is hidden from our sight – and that is a hard truth to hear.
But there is hope … so much hope here. Because, wisdom is vindicated by her deeds, people! Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. And I would add, that real wisdom, true wisdom, faithful wisdom and understanding is not only vindicated by her deeds, it is indicated by our deeds whenever we respond with faith and love and generosity and service and humility and sacrifice on behalf of the suffering and struggle that surrounds us in this world.
If we use our holy imagination and respond to what we know with a greater measure of the grace that is already ours – if we use the wisdom and the intellect, the power and privilege with which we have been blessed – our own eyes will be opened; our own hearts will be set free; our own hope will be stoked for the benefit of the world around us so that the last will be first; so that the oppressed will be set free; so that the lost will be found; the blind will see; the lonely will be comforted; the hungry filled; and all will find rest and peace and hope and new life – together – under the yoke of God’s love and grace and mercy, in Jesus Christ our Lord.