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Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

“Come here, come on, you can do it!”

These are words every parent, and if you’re lucky, grandparent gets to say to a stumbling toddler as they learn to walk.

“Come on, walk to my arms.”

This is the tone of our gospel passage, but unlike the friendly face of a parent or grandparent coaxing a toddler to take up and walk, this calling from Jesus, as we well know, is oftentimes misunderstood. If the person calling isn’t known and the child refuses the invitation, the best we can hope for is the one learning to walk grasps on to what is familiar, but the worst is they venture out on their own.

As I read our gospel passage for this week, the first section had a phrase that I haven’t been able to shake; “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” (NRSV, 11:19)

Wisdom. Well, what is wisdom and what does that mean? Can I ever convince someone that I am wise, and they are not? What does it mean to be wise in the ways of Jesus and his Kingdom? That seems to be one of the central questions from this week’s gospel, but not left without some direction. Let’s see if we can get some help as to what it means to have our actions clarify whether we are wise or not to the things of God.

We need to begin by taking another glance at the gospel passage from last week. Realizing that Matthew is seeking to encourage those living in the way of Jesus, he tells them not to worry, there are those who have fallen for the Kingdom’s sake, but if a sparrow doesn’t fall outside of my Father’s watch and care, he hasn’t forgotten you (10:28-29). I know your families have been torn apart, but remember Jesus told us that he would not abandon us. (10:34-39).

The second half of last week’s gospel speaks of welcoming, and how this is connected to the mission of God (10:40-42); welcoming a prophet, the righteous person, and giving a cup of cold water to the little ones. There is a sense that those living in the way of Jesus are hospitable, good neighbors.

“Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds”. (11:19b)

Next week’s gospel passage is the story of the farmer throwing seed, everywhere, extravagantly, wastefully even, with seemingly little regard for where the seed lands. This doesn’t seem wise at all. The farmer just chucking seed everywhere. It lands on hard packed soil where birds quickly eat it, on rocks where it can’t grow deep roots, among the thorns where the life of the plant is choked out as well as on good soil, seemingly by chance (Matthew 13:1-9). Ah, the extravagant nature of grace, embedded in all three gospel passages as is an invitation to listen, to act in these ways, if we will (13:9). The “deeds” of the “wise person” is shown by extending a hand, welcoming the prophet and righteous, giving water when someone is thirsty, leaving the results of our “sowing” up to God.

The people of Jesus’ generation were hearing this for the first time. For some it was refreshing, for others threatening and even frightening; like children learning to walk. They are exercising muscles they quite possibly have never used before. In verses 16-17, Matthew gives us a glimpse into what has been going on saying:

“We played the flute for you and you did not dance;”

Jesus came eating and drinking, and you did not accept him. [1]

“We played a dirge for you, and you did not mourn;”

John came neither eating nor drinking, and you did not accept him. [2]

John’s austerity of not eating and drinking belongs to the period of waiting; the promise has yet to arrive. Jesus’ celebratory lifestyle of eating and drinking belongs to the period of fulfilment. In Mark’s story of controversy that John and his disciples fasted, but Jesus did not (2:18-20), we have a similar contrast. Jesus’ response there is to claim that the wedding time had arrived. [3]

The Kingdom is here and Jesus is what it looks like. Those looking for the Messiah are given an invitation to follow him, to walk in his way, and Matthew says they just didn’t get it.

And then there is that phrase again ringing in our ears; “Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” (NRSV, 11:19b)

Loder goes on to explain:

“The words, ‘Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds’ (11:19), is a typical stance taken by Jesus. He sees himself in the tradition of the sage who knows God’s wisdom and seeks to live by it. In this Matthew may be evoking those traditions which had speculated about Wisdom (Greek: Sophia) as God’s companion, almost marriage partner. Jesus represents and embodies this kind of wisdom, God’s wisdom, life’s wisdom. Meals celebrate this presence just as they foreshadow the great dream of all peoples coming together in reconciliation in a great feast at the end of the days. Jesus was not only fond of feasting; he also employed the image throughout his teaching. It became the location for his famous last act of self-giving which gave rise to the tradition of the eucharist. ‘Eucharist’ (‘eucharisteia’) means thanksgiving and needs to retain the joy of thanksgiving which characterized Jesus’ ministry, which then makes sense of his death.” [4]

And for Jesus, wisdom was enfleshed, incarnate.  If this is wisdom language, and we are invited to walk in it, what does wisdom look like?  Well, according to what Matthew has been telling us, it’s welcoming a stranger and prophet; giving a cup of cold water; extravagantly spreading grace in places where it doesn’t seem to have a chance, but throwing seed there anyway.

And I’m fairly certain that Matthew moves from this week’s gospel passage to the controversy over the Sabbath with purpose (12:1-8).  Because of this Jesus is promoted from drunkard and glutton to a pawn of Beelzebub.  It’s why Jesus ends the 12th chapter asking us to look at the fruit on a tree as evidence to the type of tree it is; “Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.​

In light of the thread to these three texts, ie. last week’s gospel, this week’s, and next week’s; Matthew is helping us better understand who God is through Jesus, the extravagant nature of his grace, how rich in mercy Jesus is to the point he is called careless, a drunkard and a glutton, yet  as we see, welcoming and inviting (11:18-19).  But they not only missed it because of the labels they put on him, but also the ones they place on John, with implications of fasting and abstaining.  They were not satisfied with either one, but what if this is his Kingdom?  What if this is what God has always been about?  What are the ways we can seek to live more fully into this?

We then move to the completion of our gospel passage recognizing that what we are called to isn’t overbearing.  Some may make this seem impossible, but be encouraged.  The Sabbath isn’t a burden but created as a joyful reminder for man of who God is and how much He loves us.  The Torah isn’t intended to weigh us down, but to free us up.  So take heart, I have this, you can trust your heart that is shaped by mine, you can take on my yolk; I’ve got you.  Extend grace and mercy to a rocky, worry-filled, parched world letting me take care of the results.  

I like the way Eugene Peterson says it:

“Are you tired?  Worn out?  Burned out on religion?”  YES! (Added for emphasis)  “Come to me.  Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.  I’ll show you how to take a real rest.  Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.  I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.  Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (vv. 28-30, The Message) [5]

Who doesn’t want to answer to this invitation?  I say, as I already have, a big YES!  And yet, there is a paradox that if we recall where we started our gospel reading with many to choosing to look for reasons to sit instead of walk.  To cling to the familiar or venture off on their own instead of responding to the invitation Jesus gives us.  To not welcome, not extend a hand, not scatter mercy and grace, not listen, not follow or walk, looking for excuses instead of responding.

Wisdom has been withheld not because Jesus didn’t want them to understand, or because they couldn’t carry it, but because of their refusal to see what was right in front of them making it impossible for them to understand, to walk. So, what is right in front of us church? Are we described as being gentle and humble? Do we invite others to rest or worry?

So hear the invitation from Jesus today:  “Come on, walk to my arms!” 

“Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds”. [1] Matthew for Everyone, NT Wright. Westminster John Knox Press. Louisville, KY. 2002 [2] Ibid [3] William Loder, Article for Year A, Ordinary week 9. [4] Ibid [5] The Message. Eugene Peterson. Zondervan Publishing. Grand Rapid, MI. 2003