10 December 2010

Matthew 11:16-19

"Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds" (v. 19)


The overall impact of John the Baptist and Jesus on their contemporaries was small. This was in spite of the initial excitement aroused by John's ministry and Baptism; and the occasional awesome impact on some people of Jesus' words and deeds. 

The people of Israel might have been confused. John and Jesus were puzzlingly different from each other. But the people could hardly deny the common call to repentance. So maybe a 'displacement' activity was happening - they were playing John off against Jesus, to avoid change and commitment. The people were like a group of irritable children in the market square, refusing to join in whatever another group proposed: 'Shall we play weddings? Or funerals? Will nothing make you play with us?' 

John and Jesus were indeed different. John was a loner - fiercely self-disciplined, ascetic, fasting often and otherwise existing on desert rations (locusts and wild honey - Matthew 3:4). His preaching called for radical change of life and uncompromising goodness. Those who did not want to hear simply said he was mad. 

Jesus, in contrast, was deemed 'bad'. A convivial personality, with a controversial choice of friends, he rubbed up the wrong way people who were trying to lead a good life and keep their distance from any who showed contempt for Israel's traditions. Among the excluded were the manifestly corrupt (sinners); and tax collectors, who had compromised Israel's identity by working for their pagan conquerors. Self-respecting people 'knew' that when the outcasts had a party (and Jesus joined in sometimes), things got out of hand. Religious constraint went out of the window. 

Jesus, however, had a large and generous vision to share. He would not allow a wedge to be driven between John and himself. Both were messengers of the one God. For John the kingdom of God was virtually present; for Jesus, it was already here. Their ministries, though different, were connected and complementary: a variety of approaches drawing some, surely, to repentance. Then the wisdom of God - God's creative beauty and love silently at work in the world - would be vindicated. The fruit of holiness from two different trees. 

To Ponder

Within your church or in Churches Together locally, are there Christians whose beliefs, worship styles or moral decisions make it almost impossible for you to sympathise with them? Without compromising your own faith, how might you engage with them?

There must be limits to the range of ideas and moral choices that can be included in the Church's fellowship. Think of one example you know that is, in your view, unacceptable. How will you relate to someone who is 'beyond the pale'?

The history of relationships between Christians and Jews has been complex. How might you and your congregation offer a hand of friendship to a synagogue near you?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Deeks

The Revd David Deeks is a retired Methodist minister. He has always focused on theology and spirituality as practical themes.