Would we recognize Jesus in our midst?

July 5, 2020

Matthew 11:16-19. 25-30

16 “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,

17 ‘We played theflute for you, and you did not dance;
    we wailed, and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give yourest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yoursouls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Would we recognize Jesus in our midst?

This sounds like a fun question. In fact, people throughout history have asked themselves this question for their own amusement. If today, Jesus is with us the same way he was 2000+ years ago, walking besides us and amongst us in his very flesh, would we recognize Jesus as Jesus—the Son of the living God, the promised Messiah, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, the Prince of Peace, the Savior of the World?

It certainly is an amusing question, amusing enough tobe an inspiration for many, many different fictional stories, including a recent Netflix show called Messiah.

If Jesus were amongst us, proclaiming the good news and doing his ministry as he states in Matthew Chapter 11, “the blind receivetheir sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the deadare raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (v. 5)… if he were amongst us, would we able to recognize Christ Jesus as who he truly is?

Today’s scripture reading somberly reminds us that it wouldn’t be that easy; that Jesus’ status would not be so easily recognized. To back up a little and give some context, the people of Israel were waiting patiently for their promised messiah as described in their religious texts andby their favorite prophets (what we would call the Old Testament). Based on their readings, they thought they exactly knew who God was; and what God’s message was all about. They already had their predetermined criteria of what God’s kingdom would be all about.

Then, this John the Baptist guy started to say the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” as he gave people aheads up that someone “more powerful” was coming. And then, Jesus showed up, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God, and inviting others to share in God’s peaceable kingdom of unconditional love and forgiveness, while curing every disease and every sickness.

But the people—especially the religious ones—did notget it. They did not recognize neither John nor Jesus. In fact, even John the Baptist was unsure of Jesus (that’s why he ordered his disciple to ask thisquestion, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” v. 3). These religious people called John “a demon.” They called Jesus, “a glutton and a drunkard.” These are not mere insults. Because their existence was threatened by the ministry of John and Jesus, these words were used toposition John and Jesus as their oppositions, thereby justifying their threat to purge and to eliminate them.

So not only did the faithful religious people of thetime not get it, but they also despised both John and Jesus.

Why?

We can gather some clues as to why from what Jesussaid in today’s story.

First, Jesus described these people are “like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’”

What does this mean? First, the setting is a marketplace. A place of transaction and exchange, where calculations of gains and losses happen consistently. In such a place, people do not easily engage in the practice ofempathy. It is about making profits. It is about striking a good deal. It is about being smart.

When we see a price tag, we start calculating in our head if this a good deal. We compare with other products. We listen to the salesperson’s pitch with open ears and with hardened hearts.  

And the goal, whether for sellers or buyers, is to look for a deal that is best for our needs and our wants.

In such a place, our hearts are immovable. We do not dance at the sound of a flute. We do not mourn at the sound of wailing. Rather, we calculate what the risks and benefits are for us to participate.

The religious leaders, the scribes, and the pharisees already knew what was best for them. And it was Jesus who challenged their values. It was Jesus who challenged them with the likes of “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And based on their calculations, Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of heaven did not really have much value for them. Not only so, Jesus’ message was also offensive to their values. They had ears to hear, but their hearts were already hardened. They did not dance with him. And they did not mourn with him.

Second, Jesus prayed, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from thewise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”

Here, Jesus is describing those who don’t get it—don’t accept Jesus’ message—as “the wise and the intelligent” and those who get it as “infants.” Now, it’s easy to see and connect the dots between “the wise and the intelligent” to those in the marketplaces we just discussed. The question is why Jesus distinguishes “infants” from “the wise and the intelligent.” What are the characteristics infants have that the wise and the intelligent don’t?

After living with an infant for more than three months, I don’t think Jesus is saying that being wise and intelligent is the problem. From my short experience with infants, I think they are also wise and intelligent; or for a fact, they are not dumb. They also know how to calculate based on their needs and wants. I already see my daughter fake-crying just to get my attention.

What sets apart the wise and the intelligent from infants is their hearts. Babies’ hearts are not hardened. Rather, they are very soft—literally, I was shocked at how soft my daughter’s chest was when I first held her. And metaphorically, babies’ hearts are not hardened, they are open to observing the world around them, some may even say their hearts are “gentle and humble.” They readily dance along to the sound of a flute and they cry with you when they hear wailing. They pay attention to and take in every sound they hear. So, of course, Jesus’ message is revealed to unpretentious “babies,” but hidden to those with hardened hearts.

So, when we ask ourselves the question, “Would we recognize Jesus in our midst,” or as we seek the voice of Christ in our lives during these uncertain, unprecedented times, the very first thing we ought to ask ourselves is whether our hearts are hardened or not. This is a call for serious self-examination for those of us who consider ourselves religious. Because our hearts may already be hardened by our own preconceived criteria of who Jesus is and what God’s kingdom looks like. Because our hearts may already be hardened by the pretensions of human religion and by the burden of religious obligations that have nothing to do with the upbuilding of God’s kingdom, but all about the maintenance of our human empire, our marketplaces.

Becoming Jesus’ disciples means joyously dancing to the sound of his flute. Becoming Jesus’ disciples means mourning with Jesus as he despairs over society’s unwillingness to repent and its negligence to care for God’s creation. The church is a place of such disciples, who are ready and committed to "rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15).

My prayer this morning is for us to soften our hardened hearts, so that Christ’s message may be revealed to us each and everyday. May we be people who can recognize Christ in our midst. May his message inspire us to dance and to mourn with those in our church, in our communities, and in our world.

Hear his invitation:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Amen.