Matthew 11:1-30

Gospel Readings:

Matthew 11:1-6
Matthew 11:7-19
Matthew 11:20-30

Devotion 1

Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, allowing space for God’s voice to be heard.

Read: Matthew 11:1-6

Today’s reading follows on the mission discourse, in which Matthew’s Jesus warns his disciples of persecution which will arise as they proclaim and enact Jesus’ way of generous community and nonviolent resistance to the powers in the town and villages of Galilee. We are again reminded, in a foreboding hint of the intensification of opposition, that John has been imprisoned. This is where loyalty to an alternative reign may well lead.

But John, faithful and prophetic though he is, does not have all the answers. Here, his disciples come to Jesus to seek clarification: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” At the heart of John’s question seems to be confusion over the nature of the way in which God’s reign will be made manifest. John, it seems, has believed Jesus to be the Messiah, a figure anointed by God to bring about the “restoration of Zion and the New David, rather than existence in exile…” In this hope of restoration, “the powerful defeat of the former enemies is a major theme, as is removing exiles from their servitude.”1 We’re not told what John expected Jesus’ activity to be like. Did he expect Jesus to overthrow the Roman imperial forces in violent revolution? Did he expect Jesus to establish Israel as the locus of worldly power, with the temple as it’s centrepiece? Whatever John did expect, it seems that Jesus’ practice was different. Perhaps shockingly so.

The blind receive sight.

The lame walk.

Lepers are cleansed.

The deaf hear.

The dead are raised.

The poor have good news brought to them.

This is the practice of the reign of God. It is not easily recognised, even by those we might think should know. It includes people we might think shouldn’t be included. It crosses boundaries we might think shouldn’t be crossed. It gives when we might think the one who receives is not deserving. Jesus’ saying, “And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me” indicates that it is possible that John, even John who faithfully proclaimed God’s justice and courageously spoke truth to power, might not recognise God’s activity. Perhaps it’s possible that we might not also.

Reflect:

  • What strikes you in today’s reading?
  • Can you think of ways in which you have seen God’s activity in surprising places?
  • Are there ways are you challenged by today’s reading?

Pray

Share Communion 

Close with the Lord’s Prayer

1. Daniel L. Smith-Christopher, The Religion of the Landless: The Social Context of the Babylonian Exile (1989; repr., Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2015), 164.


Devotion 2

Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, aware of God’s presence in a broken world.

Read: Matthew 11:7-19

Hundreds of years before John and Jesus took the stage to play their part in Israel’s story, a prophetic author, whose words are preserved in Isaiah 40, wrote of Yahweh, the God of Israel’s people who had long been exiled and subjugated under Babylonian rule, acting to “prepare your way before you” to bring release from exile and liberation from subjugation. Centuries before that, the tale was told of the powerful northern Israelite prophet Elijah courageously speaking truth to power as King Ahab and his wife Jezebel had conspired to steal the land of Naboth the Jezreelite (1 Kings 21).

In today’s reading, following John’s uncertainty about Jesus’ identity and praxis, Jesus might have been justified in criticising him for being off-track. Rather than this, though, Jesus affirms him. John, says Jesus, is a prophetic voice—one who is deeply committed to the liberation of God’s subjugated people in the same way that the writer of Isaiah 40 was to the liberation of his people from Babylonian subjugation. And in the same way that Elijah denounced the injustices of Ahab and Jezebel, John has spoken truth to the power of Herod Antipas who, in a brazen move to consolidate his power, had taken his brother Philip’s wife.

Yet, the “kingdom of heaven” is not one and the same thing as what John is about. John’s way is not the same as Jesus’ way, though there is common ground. Jesus affirms John as a prophet who is deeply committed to the liberation of God’s subjugated people and is not afraid to speak truth to power in the face of consequences. And consequences will come. Those whose power is threatened by God’s liberating activity—the kingdom of heaven—will strike back, and John is exhibit A. In this way, the “kingdom of heaven has suffered violence” (verse 12)

But there are also those on the underside, who long for God’s liberating activity at any cost, including inflicting violence on their enemies—they would take the kingdom of heaven “by force.” Is this perhaps where John and Jesus differ? Is this why John has such a hard time recognising Jesus’ activity as bringing about God’s reign? Jesus way is an alternative to both passive acceptance of injustice and violent response.2 It is a third way. Jesus like John, courageously speaks truth to power. Like John, it will cost him his life. And Jesus has also refused to dehumanise those considered enemies of the reign of God. His praxis has included even low-level Roman collaborators—“tax collectors and sinners”.

Still, there will be those who not accept the way of Jesus, either in order to protect their privilege—denouncing those seeking to participate in the reign of God as misguided or evil—or because they are scandalised by it’s nonviolence, enemy love and radical inclusion.

Reflect:

  • In what ways have you seen or experienced those with power inflicting violence (physical or otherwise) on those who have spoken truth to power?
  • In what ways have you seen or experienced those on the underside of power responding with violence?
  • In what ways might we live out Jesus’ “third way” this week?

Pray for one another

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer

 2. See espeectially Matthew 5:38-48.

Devotion 3

Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of repentance together, aware of our inadequacy and God’s grace.

Read: Matthew 11:20-30

Jesus denounces the towns of Galilee that would not accept his message—Charazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum—for their unwillingness to repent. Even though they had seen Jesus’ “deeds of power” they continue to justify their refusal. IT seems that nothing can sway a people whose ideology is already set, no matter what evidence is presented to the contrary!

Having denounced those who have not accepted his message, Jesus thanks God for those who have. It seems that Jesus has not been met with with a blanket refusal, but one somewhat along class lines. It is the “wise and intelligent”—those leaders who should recognise God’s way—who are blinded by their stubbornly held ideology, while the “infants”—or the “common folk”—are able to see it.

It is to these common folk, the peasant population of the Galilean towns and rural areas that Jesus invites to come. They are the ones who carry the heavy burdens of the struggle for subsistence and debt relief, and they are the ones to whom Jesus’ way of generous community and nonviolent resistance offers a new hope.

Reflect:

  • What strikes you in today’s reading?
  • Are there ways in which you have sensed God’s activity among “infants”?
  • Are there ways in which you sense God inviting you to live out this story?

Pray 

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer

 

Devotion 4

Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of gratitude together, giving thanks for the ways you’ve experienced God’s loving kindness.

This week’s Common Value: Faith

Read: Genesis 12:1-9

Ask:

  • How might it mean to live by faith this week?

Pray

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer