We want to be smart. We want our kids to be smart. We mortgage our properties, exhaust our savings, in order to send our kids to universities. We love degrees. We read reports, books, stories. We love learning.
The gospel selection in this Sunday’s lectionary reading, Matthew 11:16-19; 25-30, feels like a smack in our faces.
In the selection, Matthew reports how people responded to Jesus, whom he, in verse 2, calls “Christ.” He says Jesus called himself Son of Man (verse 19). He says Jesus addressed God as Father (verses 25-28).
Matthew also reports Jesus saying that the people called him a glutton and a drunk (verse 19) – despite the many miracles he performed, and despite the confident manner in which he taught and preached.
Matthew even reports that John the Baptist had lost his earlier certainty about Jesus being a very special “sent one” of God. He says John sent his disciples to ask whether Jesus was really whom he’d thought he was (verse 2) – maybe John was expecting a more political Jesus.
Jesus sent John’s disciples back to him with the assurance that he was. And Jesus went on to say that John was a very special person indeed: he was the first prophet after about 400 years, the herald of Christ, the “Elijah” promised in Malachi (4:5-6), the last book of the Hebrew bible.
How we respond to Jesus is the most important thing in the world.
“Who is Jesus?” is the most important question we can ask or be asked. The answer to that question changes lives.
Jesus was born of a virgin. Fulfilled many prophecies. Taught like no other. Under his ministry, the blind received sight, the dumb spoke, the deaf heard, the lame were healed, the dead returned to life, lepers were cleansed. He rose from the dead (verses 4-5). Millions have followed him.
Yet so many do not recognize Jesus for who he is.
Why? Because they’re too occupied with their own problems and aspirations. Because they’ve got their own ideas about God and superheroes. Because what they consider wisdom is not.
Matthew suggests that Jesus referred to himself as Wisdom.
How so? Because when Jesus invited his listeners to take his yoke upon them, he “echoed” the words put in the mouth of Wisdom (God) in a book by another Jesus – Jesus ben Sirach.
Compare the passages and note the similarities:
Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Sirach 51:23 Draw near to me, you who are untaught, and lodge in my school. … Put your neck under the yoke, and let your souls receive instruction; it is to be found close by. 27 See with your eyes that I have laboured little and found for myself much rest.
What is the message of the gospel selection for us today?
The selection warns us that “it is very easy to be blind to truths and to prefer all kinds of errors.”
Errors can be characteristic of a whole mass of people. This is why Jesus made a comment about “this generation” (verse 16) and denounced whole cities – Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum (verses 20-23).
Being educated is not being wise. The educated can be very evil. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda man, had a Ph.D. He was brilliant. He could sway audiences. He was responsible for millions of deaths.
Wisdom means being open to the unexpected.
Wisdom means believing, based on historical evidence, and based on the witness of the Spirit, that God is Three-in One, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That God has a plan for each one of us, and that plan involves bending the knee to Jesus, God’s son.
Wisdom means accepting Jesus’ yoke – agreeing to put and keep something on our necks. It’s a yoke given not to exploit us, but to help us as we take on the burdens of life, whatever they might be: debt, depression, disease, disappointment, failure … and the list goes on.
Oh, and Jesus neck is also in the yoke. Peace be with you.