You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
There is something which stirs under the weight of words like “vow,” “obedience,” “poverty,” “repentance.” To the contemporary Western imagination, the thing which stirs—the family of obscure reminders about our nature as creatures—elicits a quiet shrug: “we already know what these words mean, and those are postures we’ve outgrown, have we not? The mature, modern person has no need of these archaic patterns, for the self-made man or woman is vowed to no one but themselves; one need only obey the agreed upon social conventions (even if our conscience may quiver from time to time); poverty is, as a matter of categorical necessity, a social ill to be triumphed over, escaped, conquered; it has nothing to do with our essential nature; and to repent? well, let’s not deny our dominion over ourselves—our bodies are, after all, our own.”
These are, necessarily, broad-brush strokes—a caricature—but without a doubt, many of us have likely lived our lives of conversion amid these varied, contemporary postures. Yet the Psalmist reminds us that, despite the different outward appearance, these attitudes are not all that modern at all. With our tongue we will prevail;* our lips are our own, who is lord over us? The wicked boast of their heart’s desire;* the covetous curse and revile the Lord. The wicked are so proud that they care not for God;* their only thought is, “God does not matter.”
The assumption is revealed in our daily news editorials; phrases which suggest to us that we are, simply by nature of our place in time, mature. We ought to know better because it’s year such-and-such, we ought to know better because we’ve achieved unparalleled technological feats.
Yet the message we ought to take away from our texts this morning is strange from this vantage. As we attempt our walk with Jesus amid these cultural postures, he invites us down a different path, if we would but change our mind and turn. It is curious that the author of Matthew situates in the way he does the words we hear Jesus say this morning, amid praise for those outside the covenantal promise and reproach for his own covenantal siblings.
As much as I love the rendering “revealed them to infants,” the Greek makes me pause as I pray with these words of Jesus. In the verses just before, we hear Jesus issue a pretty sour indictment of the cultured, yet indifferent or under-critical, metropolitan contemporaries of his day.
Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they would not repent. “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. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No. You will be brought down to Hades.
As a ‘cultured,’ metropolitan believer in 2018, the real sting comes with today’s words:
…for you have hidden them from the wise and intelligent and [ἀπεκάλυψας αὐτὰ νηπίοις] revealed them to minors. [Uncovered them for the uninitiated].
The challenge for us as we travel the way of repentance may be to pray for the sight to recognize the ways our conception of our own corporate and individual ‘maturity’ obscures the very real graciousness, generosity, and unanticipated detours of God’s ways. It is far too easy for us, especially today, to suppose that our own, often limited vision, is guaranteed its verity because of our social or religious location.
But, as Isaiah reminded his contemporaries, God is the sole plumb line; God the sole provider for those who seek to venture into His love; any effort of ours is only brought to maturity or fruition by God’s grace and provision: Shall the ax vaunt itself over the one who wields it, or the saw magnify itself against the one who handles it? As if a rod should raise the one who lifts it up, or as if a staff should lift the one who is the wood! Matthew reiterates this as he re-members this moment of Jesus’s ministry. “Those on the outside—those who have not been initiated—spiritual infants,” says Jesus, “are going into the kingdom ahead of you.”
Let us open our hearts and lay aside our pride; Let God hold you in the new, ‘cruciform immaturity’ bestowed upon you at your baptism. Perhaps the realest moments of saving grace come to us when we glimpse the truth of our creaturely immaturity and, without shame or presumption, give it to God. Amen.
Psalm 10:3, 4
Matthew 11:20, 23. New Revised Standard Version.
Isaiah 16:15, New Revised Standard Version.
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