Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” (NIV)
Today’s New Testament lesson from the Gospel of Matthew, recounting the words of Jesus, are not filled with unicorns and butterflies, to say the least. We might be somewhat unfamiliar with these not so famous, maybe even infamous, words from our Lord. Before Jesus tells who is accepted in the kingdom of God (Matthew 11:28-30) he tells us who is not accepted. These scathing words are specifically leveled to the towns in which Christ had performed his ministry of healing and miracles.
We need to hear the hard words of Jesus. Up to this point in Matthew’s Gospel, he has laid out the birth narrative of incarnation in chapters 1-2; the preparation for Christ’s ministry in baptism and being sent to the desert in chapters 3-4; Christ’s teaching on what constitutes a genuine follower of God, the Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5-7; and, chapters 8-10, recording ten miracles which were meant to demonstrate that the kingdom of God has broken into history in the person of Jesus Christ. In chapter 11, Jesus begins leveling a rebuke to the crowd who had observed his ministry and did nothing in response to his works.
For Jesus, the height of hubris was to simply ignore his righteous works of gracious teaching and benevolent healing.
If you are not a fan of Monday Night Football, let me explain a pre-game segment each week during the season called, “C’mon, man!” Each commentator picks out a bonehead play from the previous week that would cause someone to shake their head in dismay and say “c’mon, man!” They are typically situations where the player’s head just was not in the game and they ended up, in some cases, costing their team points or even the game.
Reading Christ’s words sounds a lot like Jesus picking out the towns in which he performed his miracles, and saying to them: “C’mon, man!” “You saw me cleanse a man from leprosy, heal paralyzed people and a woman with a chronic disease, calm a great storm, exorcise demons from people, give sight to the blind and speech to the mute. You saw all of this, but it has not changed you one bit. You still live the same way you always have and have not come to me as the source of your deliverance… “C’mon, man!”
Notice that Jesus’ denunciation comes not because he was experiencing opposition or persecution; he was denouncing them for their bonehead lack of response and refusal to change their lives to conform to what they were seeing right in front of their faces. The crowd heard his teaching and saw his miracles, and it had no effect on them. So, Jesus gave them a great big “C’mon, man!” Judgment becomes the lot of someone who is unaffected and unresponsive to the vast sea of human need around them, viewing Jesus as just another voice, and living a life of mediocrity in the face of opportunity.
So, what would the segment “C’mon, man!” look like today? What would Jesus say to us? Keep in mind we are people with access to Christ’s teaching. We have the Sermon on the Mount to read, study, meditate upon, and live by – yet, too many [Christians] don’t take the time to examine it with the intent of seeing Jesus and allowing him to change their lives… “C’mon, man!”
The Holy Spirit has been provided, who is the power source of the Christian life. We possess all the resources of grace necessary to step into this world and make a difference, yet so many do nothing but occupy a place in the pew [or couch] because they are too afraid to sacrifice their time in meaningful ministry… “C’mon, man!”
There are neighbors, relatives, and co-workers who are lost and lonely, in need of the kind of grace Jesus gives, yet too many of us are oblivious to them and instead are constantly worried about things that, in the end, don’t really matter at all… “C’mon, man!”
We have opportunities to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ through a vast array of available ministries, yet many do not take the chance to change and be spiritually stretched… “C’mon, man!”
Today the words of Jesus are right in front of our faces, and some of us will have the audacity to read them and remain unchanged, unchallenged, and unresponsive… “C’mon, man!”
If our highest values in life are sameness, stability, and security, we may very well, at the least, miss Jesus altogether, and, at worst, find ourselves under his condemnation. These verses are for those whom Jesus has become all too familiar, as if he is just another piece of furniture in the living room – the coffee table with a dusty Bible resting on it.
Perhaps this post may seem a bit out of place on a website which promotes itself as caring. I would like to think of it as obnoxiously caring. I trust you will accept today’s writing and the words of Jesus as caring enough to confront. There are times when Mid-West nice gets us nowhere and we must have hard conversations. Yes, conversations, and not verbal rockets launched from one group to another. Jesus did not denounce from a distance; he did it up close and personal. Furthermore, he was specific and not generic about why he was speaking in the way he did.
So, may you be able to pray this prayer of repentance today with heartfelt conviction:
Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Sovereign Lord of the universe, Creator of humanity, we, your unfaithful children, are sorry for our sins and the lives that we have lived apart from your grace. We sincerely believe and confess in our hearts that only through the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, can we obtain your forgiveness.
We repent that: in thought, word, and deed, we have committed serious offences against you and our neighbors. Through spiritual laziness and prideful lust for power, we have provoked hatred, division, despair, and hurt within our communities.
Through our greed, deceit, and indifference, we have inflicted serious damage, unnecessary conflict, and aggravated destruction to those different than us.
Through our selfishness, insensitivity, and bias (both conscious and unconscious) we have encouraged and emboldened those who inflict hurt, pain, and sorrow on those who are already oppressed and poor.
In the name of religion, doctrine, and even of Christ himself, we have wounded fellow believers and those who genuinely pursue a faith different than ours. In stubbornness, pride, and arrogance, we have caused division and strife within your church and among your people.
Mercifully send your Holy Spirit, the Spirit of order and comfort, to cleanse us from all unrighteousness; to restore in us true faith in Christ which brings truth, peace and harmony; and, to help us walk together with our brothers and sisters in the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, to the glory of your name. Amen.