Commentary on Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
In this text, although Jesus is referring to the generation of his time, it seems it could just as easily be addressed to our generation.
Jesus describes a generation that cannot recognize the truth that is right front of them. They thought that John the Baptist was a demon and considered Jesus to be “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinner.” Interestingly, they describe Jesus by the company he keeps. Jesus, on the other hand, compares them to children. They are oblivious, like children who are preoccupied with playing games. The Messiah, the one they have been waiting for, is right in front of them. Yet, they failed to see beyond the superficial appearances of the prophet and the Son of Man. In this text, it is clear that Jesus knows who he is, but can others see him for who he truly is? Chapter 11 begins with disciples of John coming to Jesus asking: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (11:3) It seems this question persists.
How many times have we been misunderstood? Characterized in ways that do not truly describe who we are? How frustrating is it for someone to assume they know something about you based on where you grew up or where you went to school, your gender identity or the color of your skin, a number of factors that simply do not capture the complexity of who you really are. While we often generalize based on a minimum amount of information, these characterizations can be inaccurate for an individual. This is called a stereotype. Stereotypes have multiple implications, ranging from violence to discrimination, however, their affective impact should also be considered. That is, it is disappointing and disheartening when someone does not see you for who you really are. In order to know someone, you must spend time with them and learn who they are.
The Gospel of Matthew is often referred to as the “teacher’s gospel.” Throughout the gospel, Jesus teaches. There is an emphasis on his teaching ministry. He leaves the disciples with the directive to go into the world and teach all nations. In order for them to teach others, they must first understand. Teaching facilitates truth becoming wisdom. Teaching reveals who Jesus really is.
Wisdom clarifies our vision. When Jesus declares that wisdom is vindicated by her deeds, he is lifting up an important aspect of his Jewish heritage, the wisdom tradition. Wisdom grants us the ability to understand beyond our sensory perception. If wisdom is vindicated by her deeds, what are her deeds? Wisdom provides order to chaos. (Proverbs 8:27–31). She grants us humility (Psalm 11:12) and protects and guards us (Psalm 4:6). Wisdom is a life-giving gift that comes with the Lord’s favor. According to the book of James, godly wisdom “is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17). The results of wisdom are evident.
On the contrary, those who lack wisdom are fools. Fools are often considered playful and so Jesus comparing this generation to children playing in the marketplace highlights their lack of understanding. Wisdom must be sought (it is given to those who seek it); the verb implies the need to act. Though wisdom is often associated with advanced age and intellect, Jesus’ prayer makes clear that this generalization is not correct. The hidden things have been revealed to infants (the ones we would consider least likely to understand). Therefore, revelation is the vital ingredient. Revelation is an unfolding of truth. Truth is not always readily apparent. Therefore, Jesus’ unveiling is necessary for people to know him and to know God.
Wisdom beacons all to a feast she has prepared and warns against foolishness. She calls: “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight” (Proverbs 9:5-6). However, there is a cautionary tale because just as wisdom calls out to us, so too, does foolishness. We must choose. There are consequences for the choice we make. Jesus, likewise, extends an invitation when he tells the weary to “come.”
Jesus offers respite for the weary but what we may miss here is that Jesus is also highlighting the importance of instruction. Though we think of the yoke as equipment for an animal, the term was often used in rabbinic literature to refer to the task of obedience to the Torah.1 In order to obey the law, you must know the law. Jesus wants those who are burdened to learn from him; Jesus’ gentle instruction will enable you to find rest for your soul; to find wholeness and completion. Instructors are guides and Jesus’ guidance is not harsh or arrogant, and therefore obedience to the word should be easy. Jesus’ invitation is instructive. Wisdom enables self-reflection. Getting to know Jesus helps us to know ourselves better. Our pursuit of following Jesus is at the same time a pursuit of wisdom.
In a world where the truth is often presented as debatable and lies are painted as truth, we can become weary. The truth does matter. Truth is the beginning of wisdom. It is a starting point for us to live fruitful lives. There is always more to learn. We must seek wisdom, be open to instruction so that our paths may become clearer and so that we can live peaceably and find rest from our labor. Recall in Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus declares: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven … And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”2 As we learn and mature in our walk with Christ, we should grow in understanding the importance of knowing God and perhaps more importantly being known by God.
- Dennis C. Duling, “Matthew” in The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books (eds. Harold W. Attridge, et al.; New York: HarperCollins, 2006), 1687.
- The term ginosko – a form of this Greek term translated “to know” or “to perceive” is found 20 times in the Gospel of Matthew. I think this is related to the importance of the theme of teaching. What we know is a result of what we have been taught.