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; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 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.”
Matthew 11:25-27 (NRSV)
Jesus has just finished drawing a contrast between the Israelite cities who, by rights, ought to recognize what Jesus is doing right away and get behind that effort, and Israel’s historical enemies infamous for wickedness who, Jesus believes, would have repented and followed Jesus much more readily. He may be making this projection based on the fact that the people who seem to have truly notable faith in Jesus thus far have been Gentiles and noted sinners.
The vast majority of Israel at this time appears not to put too much stock into what Jesus is saying about the kingdom coming and judgement being right around the corner, at least not enough pursue the fruits of repentance or drop everything and follow him. In fact, Israel’s religious leaders and scholars actively oppose Jesus, and Jesus sees this opposition only getting worse – drawing in not just him, but his followers. He sees persecution coming from the synagogues, and not acceptance.
These thoughts lead to a prayer. The prayer seems to be more for the benefit of the listeners than the pray-er. In fact, if the last verses of chapter 11 are still part of the prayer, Jesus just starts directly talking to the people listening.
In this prayer, he identifies the dynamic he’s been experiencing. Obviously, he’s being a little metaphorical. Infants are not following Jesus around. Elsewhere, he has referred to his faithful followers who are at the mercy of the world’s oppression as “little ones,” and we might think of other passages in Matthew and other gospels where Jesus has pointed out special places in the kingdom for children or encouraged his followers to be like children. The idea here seems not to be that intelligent adults are hard-hearted rebels while literal infants have the true revelation of God, but rather Jesus is drawing a contrast between two kinds of people, and this is a theme in Matthew that bleeds everywhere starting in the earliest chapters.
On the one hand, you have a group of people who, by all external indicators, should have been the first to hear Jesus’ warnings and get behind them, encouraging the rest of Israel to turn their hearts back to God, loving Him and loving their neighbors as themselves, and listening to Jesus’ warnings about the judgement that is right around the corner. This group of people are the priests, the Pharisees, the scribes, the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin, those who serve in the temple – these people are trusted scholars and leaders of the Jewish people of their day.
On the other hand, you have a group of people who are just trying to keep their heads above water under Roman dominion. They are poor and uneducated. They have only a cultural-osmosis level of understanding of the Old Testament. They are farmers and fishermen. They are the very referent of the phrase “unwashed masses.” They are sinners, doing whatever it takes to survive and keep their lives tolerable. They do not meditate on God’s Law day and night, nor is it a lamp unto their feet nor a light unto their path. They once were the glorious kingdom of David, and now they are the flotsam and jetsam of a backwater Roman province.
On paper, it is that first group who should have embraced Jesus as a welcome prophetic addition to their ranks. “Yes, exactly, Jesus. We need, again, a passion for loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and we need to rekindle the people’s affection for one another, loving each other as they love themselves. We need to be the faithful people God has called us to be starting with our father, Abraham, and we need to be the kingdom once again. We need to take seriously the idea that God will not allow this condition to go on indefinitely for His people and prepare ourselves for the hardships that are about to come. Thank you, Jesus, for taking this message to the people in ways we could not. Please, come speak at our synagogues and revive our people!”
It is the second group that should be apathetic or even opposed. Their lives are close to the bone – brutal and short. And now here comes a man talking about how money changes a person for the worse and turns hearts away from God. He’s talking about trusting God to provide if we make being the kingdom – something we lost a long time ago – our first priority. He wants to take my weekly visits to prostitutes away, or my skimming off the top of the people’s taxes away, and he wants me to spend my time thinking about how to love and serve God and my fellow Israelites instead of thinking of how I’m going to earn enough coin to stay out of prison. No, thanks.
But, amazingly, the exact opposite happens!
The group that is supposed to know God and pursue faithfulness rejects and opposes Jesus. They may not like the Romans much, but they’re doing just fine! They enjoy respect, wealth and the knowledge that they are the true faithful because they observe all the regulations of Moses as they seem them, and they like that situation in life, thank you very much. While this rag-tag group of sinners who smell like chum believe Jesus, repent, and make amends to those they have harmed. Some leave the only jobs keeping them alive to follow Jesus, trusting that God will take care of them.
This is what it means for God to have revealed Himself to infants and not the wise, and this is what it means for those who have believed Jesus and followed him to have a true knowledge of God that seems to have eluded the scholarly, powerful, and outwardly righteous.
- In what ways does what Jesus is doing for Israel more clearly reflect the true God than an exhaustive knowledge of the Torah?
- What does this say about what our efforts as a church should be? What should be our priorities? What things do Christians make big deals about that perhaps don’t reflect a clear expression of who God is, and what things do we neglect that might be an eye-opening revelation of who God is? How does Jesus model these things?