Friday, June 24, 2011

Gospel notes for Sunday 3rd July 2011

Yesterday I delivered some material to one of our archdeaconries on the gospel reading (RCL) for Sunday 3rd July. It may be of interest to you, especially if you are preparing a sermon for that day. The context here is Christchurch city, battered and bruised as it is.

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 (Gospel for Sunday 3rd July, 2011)

11:16 “To what should I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces who call out to one another,

11:17 ‘We played the flute for you, yet you did not dance; we wailed in mourning, yet you did not weep.’

11:18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’

11:19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

[Deuteronomy 21:20, ‘They shall say to the elders of his town, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard”.’ Matthew’s Greek for ‘glutton and drunk’ is not same as Septuagint for ‘glutton and drunkard.]

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 (lit. ‘for so it pleased you well’).

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.”

(NET: )

This passage is very difficult (e.g. around meaning of ‘wisdom’, how wisdom is acquired, Johannine character of 11:25-27, play on rabbinical and Christian discipleship in 11:28-30, meaning of ‘rest’ (is it our ‘peace and tranquillity while snoozing in the sun on a sunny January holiday’?). Suggest looking up a good commentary. Theology House has a few.

One difficulty is presented by the lectionary itself: why has 11:20-24 been omitted? Looks like a case of “difficult passage, better leave it out.” This kind of thing is ‘rough justice’ on the theological ability of the biblical writer. In this case Matthew connects 11:16-19 with 20-24 via the theme of works: God’s sending of Jesus into the world is ‘wisdom’ which is justified by its deeds or works (ergon); these works include mighty or powerful works (dynameis) of Jesus, so powerful that people should be repenting. What are our congregations missing by not hearing the whole passage?

Matthew the theologian works some authentic Jesus material differently to Luke (compare with Luke 7:31-35; 10:12-15; 10:21-22; and no comparable passage for Matthew 11:28-30), his skill and thematic interests as a theologian being betrayed by his sequencing of material and words which constitute the glue joining sections together.

Another theme worked through by Matthew is sonship. In the first passage Jesus the Son of Man speaks of himself being derided by ‘this generation’. But the language is reminiscent of Deuteronomy 21:20, in a passage about how parents are to deal with a wayward son. Ironically, whether ‘the Son of Man’ or ‘the Son of God’, Jesus is not recognised as such. In fact the opposite: he is derided with the language used of a bad son. Bad sons are recognised by their bad deeds. The generation of Jesus do not see the deeds of Jesus for what they are: deeds proving God’s wisdom is true. Rightly, Jesus the good Son addresses God as Father (11:25, 26, 27).

Wisdom is another theme Matthew is concerned with (11:19, 25, 29). Is wisdom – true, divine wisdom – received through revelation or through rabbinical learning? Revelation seems paramount, not only setting aside learning through study with rabbis (the ‘wise and intelligent’) but also judging the inanities of the crowds making their populist judgments of John the Baptist and of Jesus. Yet at the end of the passage, Jesus’ yoke is a rabbinical image: his disciples will learn from him, like other rabbis’ disciples. However Jesus continues to set himself apart: he is gentle and humble, his yoke is light and his load is easy to bear. But that means that ...

‘rest’ here is not refreshment and recreation, rather it is the result of effective learning from the true Wisdom: their souls will not be heavy burdened and weary from the demands of the Law but enjoying the peace of a mind which knows God’s will. Note the contrast between the light yoke of Jesus and the heavy demands of the Pharisees in the next chapter, Matthew 12.

Eugene Peterson’s The Message captures this understanding of ‘rest’ well in this translation:

“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 learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Which brings us back to sonship. When Jesus bids his disciples to take his yoke which is to walk closely beside him and learn from him what relationship is immediately behind this relationship? The Father – Son relationship described in 11:27. As the Son has been yoked to the Father, yielding complete knowledge, so disciples will know the Son and thus the Father (all of which is much expanded on in John’s Gospel).

All very interesting (with much more untouched here) but what is our message going to be when we preach on this reading?

What single theme might our words on July 3rd cohere around in a tight, focused message? There are several themes here.

From this passage what application(s) could we make to our communities around us, battered and bruised as we are?

My suggested answers to these questions

(1) Is Christchurch a city under judgement? Whether we take a view on the earthquakes themselves being acts of judgement, we are a city being tested for what makes us tick, what our allegiances are, and where our deepest values lie. There are some signs of more people coming to church. Are people turning to Christ in repentance and faith? Is there a vague upturn of religiosity and sentiment?

(2) Jesus is the centre. Every part of this passage (including the omitted passage in 11:20-24) turns on Jesus. Jesus is always looking for those who belong to him, who understand him, who come to him because he is the way, the truth and the life.

(3) The pressure of the earthquakes is immense. The challenges for many are overwhelming. We have lost our familiar treasures. Yet Jesus offers the incomparable treasure of knowing the Father through the Son (in the power of the Spirit). It is all that matters.

(4) +Kelvin Wright ( ): empty church buildings in Otago and Southland as testimony to a former way of doing things. Our ‘core business’ is personal transformation. Those buildings were once important to that ‘business’. Now they are not. But the ‘core business’ remains the same. What do we need to do to ‘grow the business’ in today’s environment?


liturgy said...

Thanks for this, Peter, I have added a link to here from

As to your question: why has 11:20-24 been omitted? (an interesting example of how the particular question affects the answer…) In fact it wasn’t 11:20-24 that was omitted. The original reading was 11:25-30 (see NZPB p.713); 11:16-19 has been added! Certainly, I see absolutely no reason why a community couldn’t add 11:20-24 (assuming, of course that they already read all three readings and pray the psalm); it could be in the pew sheet; people could even be encouraged to read it at home (I am regularly encouraging members of my community to read, for example, a whole gospel through from start to finish). There is certainly no case of “difficult passage, better leave it out” as this parallel in Luke is read on this same Sunday two years from now. One may criticise the RCL decision to tend to not repeat parallel passages – but there are always gains and losses in lectionary decisions.



Peter Carrell said...

I am always in your debt, Bosco, for a deeper understanding of the lectionary(s)!

I had noticed that in NZPB it was 11:25-30, but had thought that reflected an older version of RCL, so what is printed in the NZL 2011 is a true and correct version etc.

So, agreed, an addition has occurred.

hogsters said...

I for one will be reading the lectionary vs required of the day as well as those cut out vs 20-24.

Hard to make sence of what _______ if a key ___________ passage in _________the ______ out.

liturgy said...

Good on you, hogster, for reading more scripture publicly, but don't assume that by including those particular verses you have solved the issue that you go on to describe so picturesquely.

To follow your logic, you will have needed the whole community to have been there last Sunday and concluded at Matt 10:42; then this Sunday you should start, not at verse 16 as you are going to, you should start at Matt 11:1. Only then are you providing some appropriate context for your vv 16ff text.

Do let us know, week by week, how your principle is working out in practice.

[and I'm assuming you are reading the other readings and the psalm also - and applying your principle in each case; whole psalm, complete Genesis reading...]



hogster said...

Hi, Bosco, thanks for your encouragement and challenge. You are exactly right about starting at 11:1. That is why, in the interests of unpacking 16-30, I started at 11:1 and the question and answer session between JB (via his disciples) & Jesus.