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 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!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
20Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. 21“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.”
25At 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; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27All 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 you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.
Reflect briefly on the following words:
Repentance is a hard word to hear; often we cover our ears and head off in a different direction instead of examining our hearts honestly. John the Baptist and Jesus both found themselves in trouble for calling people to repent. We often put up the same barriers to repentance that Jesus and John’s audience did in their time.
In our passage from Matthew, Jesus takes his audience, his generation, to task for closing their ears to God’s message. He says, “John came neither eating nor drinking and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The son of man comes eating and drinking and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard; a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’”
His point is that people reject God’s message of repentance when it comes through John because they see his strange clothes and write him off as crazy. Then they reject God’s message of welcome and forgiveness when it comes through Jesus because he hangs out with questionable characters. Like petulant children, they only want things their way. They only accept a message that comes in the expected package and says what they want to hear. How often do we ignore a critique or suggestion because it comes from a person we don’t expect? How often do we put down the Bible because we don’t like what it says about us?
We also sometimes ignore the message of repentance because we forget that we need it. We say to ourselves: “I’m a pretty good person. I don’t hurt anyone or break the law.”
For many Jews of Jesus’ time, especially the religious leaders, it was simply taken for granted that they were God’s favorites and that everyone outside Israel was outside of God’s plan. Jesus shatters that illusion by talking about foreign cities like Tyre, Sidon and even Sodom. Jesus says those gentile cities would have repented if they had seen the miracles he did in Israel, but the Israelites he’s preaching to haven’t repented. The people closest to the message are least likely to listen.
We have the same problem in the church. Many of us have grown up with Jesus’ words, so they can seem like just part of the background of our lives. Familiarity dulls the impact of Christ’s calling, so we get complacent about our spiritual lives. We forget that Jesus is always calling us to repent, to follow, to grow in our faith and let the word change us.
Paul sees another side of the issue and he makes it personal. Even when we do hear the calling to repent and know that it is for us we have a hard time doing it. He says he wants to do the right thing, but he can’t do it. He knows what’s right, but he keeps doing the wrong thing anyway. Even when we recognize our need to repent, we have a hard time actually doing it.
When we allow God’s message to challenge us we feel overwhelmed. We can’t meet the long list of demands we think God has of us. We feel inadequate about our Bible knowledge or our prayer life. We see the work that needs to be done in the church and we feel guilty. We see the sheer scale of suffering and injustice in the world and feel helpless about changing it. We feel the need to repent, but we also feel trapped by the demands of our lives. We know where Paul is coming from when he cries out for rescue. How can we be free?
Jesus speaks freedom into our lives. In baptism we are joined to Christ’s death and resurrection. Dying and rising with Christ frees us from the sin that traps us and the law’s demands we can’t meet on our own. In Christ we die to everything that traps us and holds us back. We rise in him to new life and love and freedom. Christ forgives us and calls us to new lives of discipleship. When we put on Christ’s yoke we find healthy direction for our lives.
We all need to repent and come home to God. We need healing and freedom and guidance. We cannot save ourselves, but we can trust God’s infinite love. Whether we feel near or far from God, God loves us and calls us home again. Whether you feel too good to need it or too bad to deserve it, Christ welcomes us with love. In Christ we are set free to follow and rejoice. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. In Christ we find rest for our weary souls.
Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.