Summary: Life in the Kingdom is not an intellectual meritocracy. Rather, it is a respite for those who labor and are heavy laden in their spiritual ignorance. In one prayer of thanksgiving, Jesus condemns the "wise and prudent," and He welcomes the babes into Hi
The Wise, the Prudent, and the Babies
When I first began attending Dallas Seminary, I noticed something happening among many of my fellow students. Two, things, actually.
On one hand, the academic atmosphere of the place seemed to make some students bloom into these intellectual powerhouses. It was a very heady and intoxicating to be handling the Scriptures in the original languages. It gave one a kind of mountain-climber’s high to read across centuries of Christian theology, to categorize, analyze, systematize, and criticize all the various theological schools and parties over the past centuries. Paul said that knowledge puffs up, and I’d guess the students I’m talking about were poster boys for this idea.
On the other hand, some students seemed to find their faith shipwrecked. Two things contributed to this. First of all, in seminary they met, for the very first time, a serious and compelling challenge to some of their most precious notions about the gospel and the spiritual life. Secondly, as they grappled with these challenges, they too found a vast vista of differing convictions spread out before them, running back over 20 centuries to the Bible which they had supposed was as easy to understand as a phonebook. And, so, they would throw up their hands in despair, thinking that it was now impossible for them ever to come to any solid conviction about anything ever again.
I thought about those fellow students when I read over the gospel appointed for today. Though you may not recognize them immediately in today’s gospel, these two kinds of students I met in seminary were just modern examples of the kinds of people Jesus was speaking about in today’s gospel lesson. To see how this is so, let’s turn our attention for a moment to the context in which Jesus’ words were spoken.
In the previous chapter of Matthew – Matthew 10, Jesus commissioned his disciples and sent them into the cities of the Jews to preach the gospel. From our earlier examination of that commission, you remember that Jesus warned them that they would face persecution, hostility, and rejection from many of those to whom they preached. At the beginning of the next chapter of Matthew, we read this:
1 Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities.
So, the disciples are out there preaching and teaching. Jesus is out there preaching and teaching. And what happens? Well, the next thing we read is that John the Baptist, who is already in prison, sends his own disciples to Jesus with a question: “Are you the one who was to come? Or are we to wait for another?”
You see, John had gotten word of the reception Jesus and his disciples were receiving, and it disturbed him. John was worried about the opposition to Jesus, about the way the leaders of the people were rejecting Jesus. And, John was further worried because the people to whom Jesus and the disciples preached were not receiving Jesus’ message. John couldn’t understand this, and so he sent a message to Jesus asking, “What’s going on? Are you for real? Or is someone else going to follow even you?”
Jesus answer has three parts. First Jesus sent a message of encouragement to John. It’s not in the gospel read a while ago, but you can easily find it in Matthew 11.
Next Jesus pronounced woes upon the cities where he had ministered, cities which had not believed in him. He singles out Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum for special mention. Indeed, Capernaum – which became Jesus’ second home once he had been run out of Nazareth – gets the strongest denunciation of all. 23And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you."
What’s going on here? Why are these cities – especially Capernaum – so resistant to Jesus’ ministry? Why do they not repent? Why are they so disbelieving?
Well, we learn what’s going on in the next verses of Matthew 11, when Jesus breaks out in thanksgiving with these words:
"I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. 26Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.
Jesus is using strongly sarcastic language here. “Wise” and “prudent” are terms applied to the religious leadership of Israel to themselves, and so Jesus calls them these terms. And, “babies” is how those wise and prudent described everyone else. And, so, Jesus praises His Father that the message of the kingdom is hidden from the wise and prudent, but revealed to the babies, for this pleases God.