Yes, it’s a weird title but just come along with me for a few minutes…
One thing I’m noticing as I read through Matthew in my personal devotions is the way that Jesus uses stark juxtapositions. What I mean is this. He says something quite jarring and confronting, and then He says something which at first sight seems to be utterly unrelated. On further reflection, however, it provides a clear juxtaposition (but not a contradiction) to what has come before. Often, I suspect, it is done to grant the balm of relief to a wound that has just been inflicted.
Here’s an example,
Matt. 11:27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
It’s quite an audacious claim, isn’t it? It’s exclusivity at it’s most pronounced; all things have been committed to Jesus by the Father. The “all things” here comes in the context of Jesus having just called the Father “Lord of heaven and earth” (Matt. 11:25), which only increases the enormity of the claim. And how do we know the one to whom the Father has committed all things? Well, Jesus goes on to tell us it is ultimately only by the Son’s own revelation. He reveals the Father through Himself (and, of course, that is perfectly logical since all things are committed to the Son – where else could you go?).
As it stands, it leaves us wondering what we can possibly do. There is a hint of something wonderful we may be graciously included in but the shadow of exclusion is there too. If we are not those “to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” then what possible hope do we have?
Enter the juxtaposition. Jesus’ next words,
Matt. 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
And all of a sudden the tension is broken. The one who guards all things, the one who controls access to the Father who gives all things, that same one makes an open invitation. “Come to me”. The answer to Jesus’ claims of exclusivity is Jesus’ invitation. Many of us have heard Matt. 11:28, many of us may have used it as an invitation. But isn’t it all the more powerful when set against what has come immediately before?
What other examples in Jesus’ teaching can you think of?
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Recently was alerted to the parallels with Jesus’ statements here and Sirach 51 and 24.
yes Alastair. I did some work on that back in theological college. Care to tell us a bit more of what you’re thinking about?
I was thinking about the mediating role played by Wisdom. In Sirach and places like Proverbs 8-9 we see Wisdom as the agency that encompasses both sides of the juxtaposition that you observe: both having a uniquely close relationship to God and as the one who calls out the free invitation in the streets.
I seem to remember some differences (it was 5 years ago!)
Jesus as both Wisdom but also the personification of wisdom
Jesus puts a new spin on Sirach. In Sirach there are those who are urged to do the gentle work of exploring wisdom. In Matthew He just makes the call to come and find rest from the work.
I’ll try and dig out that essay.