Matthew 11:16-30 “Are You Paying Attention, Capernaum?”

(This is my rough draft for Sunday, but I am going to stick to my self-imposed deadline of posting by Wednesday morning.  I’m trying to work towards a conclusion that integrates the “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  I am also setting up the next three weeks to talk about the parables of the sower, the wheat and tares and the mustard seed.  I see these as the antidote to the frustrations Jesus is expressing in this Gospel reading.  Please feel free to commit and I will post the completed version tomorrow.)


When Jesus gets really angry I get interested.  Perhaps it is because I am more moved when Jesus cries, laughs or shouts, when he acts like a human being.  It tells me that underneath the lofty Gospel proclamations like “God from God, light from light, seated at the right hand of God, and of one being and substance with the Father” resides a passionate person who wants better for us, and is stung by criticism and apathy.  I want to know what got underneath Jesus’ skin and how he dealt with it, because it may be a problem that affects my life too.


I wonder what these towns and villages that made Jesus so angry.  I searched to find out about Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida to see if there was anything notorious about them.  They were all nondescript little fishing villages in Galilee, the small villages where most of his disciples came from.  Nothing in the Gospels points towards these villages being full of brothels, drugs, gangs, hedonists, Communists or devil worshipers.  Apparently Jesus main complaint is that they were apathetic whiners.  He had preached and healed, what Matthew called acts of power, and they were unmoved, going on about the business of catching fish.  He compares them to children in the marketplace,


‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!


Reading between the lines, it sounds like they didn’t want the tough asceticism of John the Baptist, renouncing worldly pleasure, and they didn’t want the lighter touch of Jesus, who welcomed everyone and hung out with sinners. They just wanted someone to bless them the way they are.  Maybe they were hoping for a therapist to come and enhance their self-esteem rather than challenge them to change.  It seems that apathy, indifference and a comfort level with the way things are bother Jesus.  He is angry to the point of pronouncing great woe.


I can relate to Jesus frustration.  As I read the signs of the times, we have multiple crisis slowly moving towards us.  As Thomas Friedman of the Times put it in a recent book, the world is becoming more hot, crowded and wired.  Global warming is causing extreme weather patterns, growing populations are stretching the planets resources to a possible breaking point in a generation, debt problems are causing economic hardship and we don’t have a plan for how we will deal with the sick, the elderly and the needy.  Unless we have some kind of Great Awakening, we seem to be headed for disaster.


Michael Crichton, the screenwriter who mastered the science fiction thriller in Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, Congo, State of Fear, sold over 150 million books trying to scare us regarding the perils coming at us from the future.  In his book The Lost World he warned,


At a time when our behavior may well lead us to extinction, I see no reason to assume we have any awareness at all.  We are stubborn, self-destructive conformists.  Any other view of our species is just a self-congratulatory delusion.


My inkwell is poised to fire at the culprit, but if Crichton is correct, I might as well dump ink on my own head.  We have a species-wide problem of not seeing the truth till it is too late.


I have never thrown an inkwell at the devil, as Martin Luther did on a very bad day.  I hate to clean up a mess.  My inky anger smudges my journal pages where the words sit safely between straight-ruled lines.  When evil confronts me I tend to get cynical rather than hurling my favorite Pilot Gel pen at the perpetrator.  After all, Gel pens are expensive.  Maybe that is wimping out but at least I get the pens with a bold point (and occasionally I write one too.)  I would like to get worked up and have some target practice with the devil, but the face of evil is often a taunting apparition, as Luther found out.  Evil often hides in banality, so I don’t know where to aim.  Evil seldom looks creepy or wears a black hat.  The devil always puts the words “new and improved” on his toxic products.  He caps his teeth, blow dries his hair, and hides in regulations, law suits, austerity plans and people just doing their job.  When I don’t know where to throw by missiles, I just get cynical instead.  At least I can then feel sophisticated while being ineffective.  In the end, I am tempted to the same kind of apathy and indifference as the people in Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida.  The problems are too big, too complicated, other people don’t seem to be as bothered as I am, so why don’t I get on about my business and fish?


Do the ancient words of scriptures still have guidance for our 21st century challenges?  Too often the Christian message for our time has been reduced to hoping things being better in heaven.  Just hang in there and do the right thing because eternity will be worth it.


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  1. I find it interesting your use of the phrase “‘the antidote’ to the frustrations Jesus is expressing..” It leads one to really ponder the statement, which I have been so doing.
    Jesus uses many parables and phrases in which to teach, and in that light I feel the term used is a bit misleading.
    Perhaps a different terminology might draw the reader into the story. Just another view. Thanks, and God bless.
    In Christ,
    Jeffrey How

  2. Jeffrey,
    I’m interested in the context and placement of the parables in Matthew’s Gospel. Parables are often read as completely self-contained without any contextual reference. After reading chapters 10 to 13 in Matthews Gospel to prepare for July’s sermons, I was struck by the reality that Jesus had sent his disciples out with marginal success, he was questioned by John the Baptist and then pronounced woe on these little fishing villages. It seemed to me that the following parables address the conditions of opposition and criticism. The sower of seeds, wheat and tares and mustard seed parables come into the narrative right after opposition to his ministry. That is what I meant by antidote. I hope to flesh this out throughout the month. Perhaps this is so for me, because of my own set of frustrations in life.

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