Matthew 11:20-24

Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did 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. But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you.

And 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. But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.” Matthew 11:20-24

Sometimes it is easy to forget the distance between the writing of the New Testament and our contemporary reality. We forget that we might miss some inside jokes. We might not grasp the sense of a then common cliché. We read the names of these cities but we don’t, and can’t, understand how they would have sounded in the ears of Jesus’ hearers. Chorazin. Bethsaida. Tyre and Sidon. Capernaum. Sodom.

Today, if I were to list the names of places like Los Angeles, Fargo, or Cleveland, each would evoke a certain sense in us. We know something about them. Or at least we think we do. Other places take on a new sense because of what happens there – San Bernardino, Las Vegas, New Orleans. Fame becomes infamy. Tinsel becomes tragedy.

While we might not fully understand the internal references to the places that Jesus names, we can immediately and certainly recognize the point that Jesus is making. Those places that knew Jesus the best were the first to reject him. The foreign places, the infamous places, like Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, come out with the long end of the stick. His words are both challenge and threat.

Why didn’t the local communities, the ones who knew Jesus best, embrace him and repent?

When you read through the gospels, looking for evidence that would ultimately put Jesus on a cross, it is hard to see what he did that was so wrong, so dangerous, so intolerable. He helped people. He healed people. He taught people. He broke through social divisions. He embraced the outcasts. Why was he so rejected?

He wasn’t a politician. He wasn’t seeking votes or approval. He wasn’t a revolutionary. He didn’t raise an army. He wasn’t a merchant or an entrepreneur seeking to strike it rich. He posed no threat to those who were. So why did he pose such a threat to those who knew him best?

Consider our own day here. Facing the recovery from multiple natural disasters, all of which will prove extraordinarily expensive, we have politicians – who used to worry about the deficit and the national debt – stepping over themselves to cut taxes. Not to mention gutting efforts to take climate change seriously or to protect our environment.

Still in shock from yet another senseless mass shooting, we’re having difficulty making any move toward common sense gun control as one piece of the puzzle to move forward.

In the face of rampant drug addiction and all of the social costs that brings to our lives, more states are legalizing marijuana even as the federal government seeks to cut access to health insurance and health care – which includes mental health care and drug treatment programs.

We ask ourselves why we find ourselves in such conundrums and we begin to better appreciate why Jesus was rejected – because he prioritized people in a selfless, sacrificial, loving way. Especially those on the edges. He valued people over profits, prophets over politicians, and service over self-interest. He invites us, especially those who know him best, to do the same.

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, the fear of rejection is among our deepest fears. We don’t want to be left out, kicked out, ignored, or abandoned. Yet you seem to embrace those very things in a courageous, loving way. Bring us to the place of repentance – give us new eyes to see, new ears to hear, new voices to speak, new willingness to act. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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2 Responses to “Matthew 11:20-24”

  1. Dave Armstrong Says:

    You raise some good points and as always, plenty of food for thought!

  2. Kara Says:

    Amen once again

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