Matthew 11:20—12:8, Come to Me and Rest

[June 17, 2012] In chapters 11—12 we move from Jesus facing people’s disappointment in Him to His facing some pretty serious opposition. The previous section prepared us for this. The centurion’s faith—he was a Gentile—was contrasted to the unbelief of Israel; the surging waves of the sea threatened to swamp the boat He was in; the Gergesene Gentiles send Him away; the Pharisees question His pronouncing a man’s sins forgiven and His eating with tax-collectors and sinners; the disciples of the Baptist wonder why He and His disciples do not fast; the Pharisees say, “He casts out the demons through the prince (archon) of the demons”; and in Jesus’ charge to His disciples He warns them of severe persecution. Some will not receive you, He tells them, for “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.” You will be betrayed and put to death, even by members of your own families; indeed, “you will be hated by all,” for “I have not come to bring peace but a sword.”

 As this new section opens Jesus is met by the disciples of John the Baptist. Even John is scandalized by Jesus. “If You are the Coming One, why am I languishing in a prison? Why isn’t the Kingdom of the Heavens coming? I’ve been given a vision of the Coming One and the coming of the Kingdom (see Matthew 3:1-12), yet I do not yet see anything that I envisioned? I am in the dungeon here dangerously disappointed. Was I wrong about You?” Jesus says to the people, You are “like little children sitting in the marketplaces, who call to the others and say, ‘We have played the flute to you, and you did not dance; we have sung a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking; and [you] say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous Man and a Drunkard, a Friend of tax-collectors and sinners.’”  They were deeply disillusioned by Jesus. “You say the Kingdom of the Heavens has drawn near. Well? All we see are miracles of healing. You’re not the first faith-healer we’ve seen; we’ve seen Your kind before. Where’s the Kingdom? We are disappointed in You.”

Jesus’ Disappointment in the People (Matthew 11:20-24)

“Then Jesus began to reproach the cities in which most of His works of power took place, because they did not repent.” Jesus begins to pronounce woes on their cities, on Chorazin and Bethsaida and even Capernaum.  Because of what they have seen—because of the advantage they have had and the privilege with which they have been treated—their lack of response to Him will incur a divine response of judgment worse than the idolatrous cities of Tyre and Sidon deserve, and worse than what was experienced by godless Sodom. Beloved Capernaum, “You will be brought down to Hades,” the realm of the dead, just as they were.

Jesus sounds angry, but I think this is mistaken; He is not angry—He’s disappointed and in grief over them. As disappointed as the people are in Him, He is much more disappointed in them. But that disappointment is not the disappointment of anger (though divine anger is present “in the air”—as it must be when people push God away) but the disappointment of sadness. Far from gloating over the divine reaction they will incur, He is practically in tears over them.

He has shown them much of the goodness of God in these works of power: they are signs of the nearness of the Kingdom. “Do you despise the riches of [God’s] kindness and forbearance and long-suffering?” Do you not know it is the goodness of God that leads you to repentance?  (Romans 2:4). “You want to see the judgment of God come on others and are disappointed because you do not see Me bringing it to bear on them. But it is you who need to repent. I have come for you. Must you wait until the hand of the divine judgment falls on you before you recognize this? Can you not hear Me before that happens?” My dear reader, do we recognize that we too are being indicted here?

What is this “repentance” that Jesus calls for? These are not “bad” people (like the tax-collectors and sinners, or the Pharisees—if you know my meaning); they are regular people. In fact, unlike the people of today, they are church-going folk; people who take their religious obligations seriously. They honor their parents and behave the way they were taught by them. Is Jesus really saying this to them, that they are the ones who need to repent? Not everyone can be like the Twelve; not everyone can leave their job and responsibilities and follow Jesus like that. They are householders; does not the Torah command that they take care of their families? What did he mean when Matthew says Jesus reproached them “because they did not repent”? Does not “repentance” refer to judging oneself and turning around; of making the same assessment of oneself that God makes, agreeing with God and submitting to God’s response, and then living in a way that God approves? If so, why would God be so disapproving of them, as Jesus seems to think?

“Land of Zabulun and land of Nepthali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: the people sitting in darkness have seen a great light; and to those sitting in the region and shadow of death, to them light has risen” (Matthew 4:15-16; see Isaiah 9:1-2; 60:1-2). The standard of our repentance depends on the light we have been given. Jesus has come as light to those who are in darkness. He Himself is that light—He is the Coming One; He is what they are expecting—apart from anything He does or makes happen. If they do not see Him for who He is, there can be no repentance. In this case, repentance means to allow the light of His Person to shine on oneself, to be in that light, and to live in it, to allow it to devastate one’s artificial self-construction, to experience the freedom of it and to enjoy the gift of beauty and light.

The Revelation of the Light (11:25-27)

“No one knows the Son except the Father; neither does anyone know the Father except the Son and him [or her] to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” The light is not some insight into an intellectual mystery, some principle or concept that can inflate our ego and make us more self-righteous than we already are. The light is the revelation of the Son, and the revelation of the Father in Him. The word for “know” is epignōskō; it means recognition, or real knowledge, not mere objective acquaintance. I speak of revelation because it is the kind of knowledge that one cannot obtain on one’s own. No one can know the Son except the Father. If we know the Son, we are knowing with the knowledge of the Father; it means we have been brought to the inside, seeing what the Father alone sees, seeing through the Father’s eyes. No one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:11). We can only know the things of God by participation in God, by participating in God’s own Self-knowing. That is what Jesus seems to be talking about. No one can attain to this. It can only be given.

The light then, as we have come to discern it and have learned to gradually articulate it (as in the Gospel according to John) is not the knowledge of the historical Jesus or the doctrines concerning Jesus, but the Spirit’s own inward beholding (seeing) of the “Word become flesh,” of the divine nature and the nature of createdness held simultaneously (without compromise or lose of integrity, yet without separation or division, and without mixture or confusion as if these natures were “parts”) in the complete oneness of the divine Personhood. Our salvation is in seeing this and allowing it to become our own truth: we begin to mirror the divine initiative—as the person of God became what we are without ceasing to be divine, so in our own personhood we become what God is without ceasing to be human. This is the light that shines on us in our darkness. Repentance means to allow it to shine on us and pull down our fortresses of defense against God, the constructs of our false self.

“At that time Jesus answered and said, ‘I extol You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for thus has it been well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father.’” The wise and intelligent here are not just the Pharisees; it is the Galilean people, the common folk with their common sense and practicality. For, it is not just education that blinds us to the light in front of us. It is our identification with our constructed self. It is our identification with our cultural (or individual) matrix. Because of that identification with this façade, we only see it; we cannot see the reality beyond it, and indeed in front of it, beneath it and above it. We do not even see the reality of our own createdness and of the createdness all around us, the reality of which is inseparable from the reality of God. (Indeed, that is precisely what the derogatory term “flesh” means in the Scriptures: it is the misperception of body and matter as if it were separable from spirit, as if it were “meat.”)

But we cannot escape our blindness. To escape it has to be a gift given to us from outside our selves. The false self cannot get itself out of its own box. Like an old refrigerator, we can lock ourselves in but we cannot open it from the inside. Only by the grace of God can the door be open. “You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent” by the nature of things, but graciously “You have revealed them to infants, to these few disciples that I have. If You have done so, You have done so by Your own good pleasure, because of Your gracious desire to do so, and not because anything outside of Yourself has compelled You to do so.”

If people are blind to the light, it is because God has chosen not to reveal the light to them. It is God’s will. We immaturely protest that it is unfair. Why does God not reveal the light to everyone? Perhaps it is simply a matter of time. In time (not in eternity) things have to unfold, sequentially. It is hard to take. We are not the only ones feeling this. Jesus says, “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father.” The disappointment that Jesus experiences, the grief that He feels because of the people’s disappointment in Him, His grief over them, has been delivered to Him by the Father. This is how things must unfold. Jesus suffers it, and will continue to suffer it right up to the cross. And we will suffer it; we will suffer all the hatred of the world against the presence of the light, if it is shining through us.

“All things have been delivered to Me by My Father.” “No one knows the Father except the Son and him [or her] to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” It has also been delivered to the Son to reveal the Father to those whom the Son wills. But the Son can only reveal the Father to those to whom the Father has given Him (John 17:2). It is in the hands of the Son, and yet there is a sense of frustration, for it can only be dispensed in the course of time, as things unfold as they must. To speak of the “Father” and the “Son” is to speak of the divine. The will of Jesus is human, and it wills the divine will in perfect agreement with it, for the wills of His two natures are united in His personhood, yet He also experiences the frustration of living in time, the frustration of seeing people’s resistance to Him, of knowing that they will suffer the divine judgment, that they will suffer as a result of the divine condemnation.

Nevertheless, Jesus says, “I extol You, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth.” Jesus not only accepts the divine will, He praises the Father. He accepts this and agrees with and exalts in God, and speaks this to His Father, the personal face of God to Him. We too can praise God in the midst of persecution, when the world treats us according to the light that shines through us. We do not have to get angry or scandalized. Though we languish in prison like John the Baptist, we do not have to get impatient and doubt the light that we have received. We can praise God for how His will is unfolding—not because we understand why it must be so, but simply because it is God’s will that it does unfold this way. We trust God, in other words, for “thus it has been well-pleasing in Your sight.” Here Jesus finds His own rest, and we can find ours—for though things are not in our hands, they are not arbitrary either—they are in the Father’s hands.

Come to Me and Find Rest” (11:28-30)

“No one knows the Father except the Son and her [or him] to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Come to Me then—for I will it—all you who toil and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Jesus did not pronounce the woes of verses 21-24 lightly but out of longing for the people. “Come to Me” He says to them. “You labor under a delusion. You are disappointed in Me but not rightly. I can give you rest. Your life is miserable and you would experience it as even more miserable if you saw it in the light of day, if you ceased being in denial of your misery, but I can free you from that misery. You in America are entertaining yourselves to death to inoculate yourselves from reality, to prevent yourselves from seeing the actual boredom and pointlessness of your lives. But it does not need to be this way. “Come to Me and I can give you rest. You labor under a heavy yoke, pulling an impossible burden, the burden of delusion, the enormous delusion that is the world. But take My yoke upon you instead, and learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your weary soul. For My yoke is easy, unlike the world’s, and My burden is light.”

Nothing is heavier than the ugly weight of the world’s delusion. The whole fabric of civilized life, of our civilization, is a delusion that cannot work. We are trying so hard to make it work, but we exhaust ourselves in the effort, for it cannot work. Our technologies are supposed to make our lives so much easier, yet we are busier and more burdened than ever before. Mentally we are numb with exhaustion for our thoughts cannot settle even for a moment and physically we are sick. We take up meditation to settle our thoughts, and they seem to settle on the surface, but underneath we are still a seething cauldron. Jesus says, “I will give you rest. In Me you will find rest for your souls. This only I ask of you: Come to Me; come to Me and take My yoke upon you, the yoke of discipleship. That is all.”

We Christians like to make discipleship such a demanding thing. We are such moralistic creatures and we want to distinguish ourselves as better or harder working than others, to justify ourselves. But are we right? “Come to Me for My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” But, we say, we want to qualify it. It is only relatively easy compared to the burden of the Torah. And then our Marcion anti-Semitism begins to spew out. Is that what Jesus means? No. The enemy is not Judaism. It is the world. It is probably because we are Gentiles that we harbor the world and protect our own. But it is the world that Jesus condemns. We want so badly to keep our self-righteousness, but Jesus says, “No. Discipleship is not demanding.” How are we to hear Him?

“Come to Me,” He says. When He called His first disciples, He invited them into His own space, the sphere of His personhood. And pronounced them “blessèd.” It was as if He were the Promised Land and by simply being in that place they would become (constitutionally, of course) that which God would bless: poor in spirit, those who grieve, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted for righteousness’ sake. They just had to be there as they go through the process of living for their being to transmute like the alchemical transmutation of lead into gold. The left hand does not know what the right hand is doing—we are transformed without even knowing it, without self-consciousness of it. For us, that means to fix the revelation in our spirits by word and contemplation, and to dwell in the revelation in the living out of our lives in relationship to others, to our bodies and to nature.

What is difficult is not the striving to do but the letting go of that to which so desperately clutch. As reality dawns on us, our fear loosens its grip, and letting go of our inauthenticity begins to take place; the layers of our false selves begin to unravel and the world loses its grip on us. It is not by trying to let go that we do; rather it is by seeing the danger and unpleasantness and ugliness—and plain falseness—of our soul, our constructed self, that the original child-soul begins to come into the light of day. We see when we trust the divine enough to open our eyes and look. This trust, and this looking, and the falling away of our wasted labor, and our resting in who we are in the revelation—this is our rest, our Shabbat.


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