Matthew 11:16-19,[20-24], 25-30
On a lonely road in ancient Greece there stood an inn. Far from anyone else the inn keeper lived alone, and occasionally a solitary traveler would stop for the night. If this has creepy echoes of a horror movie, then you’d be right.
Each traveler would be shown to the one guest bed. For some it was too short, for others too long. Those for whom it was too long would awaken to find they’d been put on a rack, to stretch them out to fit the bed. Those who were too long for the bed . . . well they awoke to find missing feet or more . . .
This ancient myth reveals a deep truth about human beings – that which doesn’t fit is not comfortable to us. We Know how the world is . . . so we can spot that which doesn’t fit, and deal with it. After all we have eaten from the apple of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We Know! Get with the programme! Then we can all be comfortable . . . or perhaps dead . . . after all, that is supposed to be just a long sleep . . .
And Jesus says . . .
‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,
17 “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.”
This generation, every generation . . . Every generation with its opinion about what fits. ‘Hey look it’s a time for dancing, why are you so miserable?’ ‘It’s a time for fear, why do you live so freely?’ Here’s the bed – Get with the programme!
The spirit of Procrustes lives on . . . as Jesus found
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; Hey John,, all that camel hair shirt and Repentance stuff! Don’t be so miserable – we just want to have fun. John, he’s too moral.
Jesus . . . he’s not moral enough the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!”
Of course, we are not like that are we . . . especially in respect fo Jesus. Yes, John is a bit miserable, but Jesus . . . well he’s our version of an all round good person – we wouldn’t distort his message, stretching him or cutting him to fit our comfortable Procrustean bed, would we?
He’s ‘A friend of tax-collectors and sinners’ – Just like us . . . or is he?? Who are those people? Those whom the dominant narrative declares do not fit – those who are ‘beyond the pale’.
The tax-collectors were collaborators with the brutal Roman power – Jesus hung out with them. Think of any ghastly regime you like, Stalin’s, HItler’s . . . Trump’s even, if you will. The Romans were right up there – and these Jewish people collaborated with them. Those how have thrown their lot in with the brutal oppressors?? Tax-collectors. Jesus hung out with them – why one of them was his disciple, and may even have written a gospel!
Sinners – well that’s all of us, isn’t it? But if you want to get a feel for the force of it in the ears of Jesus’ detractors – think of Hilary Clinton’s ‘deplorables’ . . . everyone has them. The ‘good’ people always have their ‘nasty people’ – Those people . . . the people you wouldn’t be seen dead with? They are ‘sinners’ . . . they are the ones Jesus is hanging out with . . .
Perhaps Jesus is not moral enough for us . . .
Perhaps Jesus isn’t moral enough for us – He’s not a good fit for the Saviour we were looking for. And so here and there we trim Jesus to fit our story, and if you know Matthew Chapter 11 – you’ll realise that that’s exactly what we have done, or at least someone has done on our behalf . . .
the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!”
Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’ Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds . . . What does that mean?? But we skip over the verses about the deeds of Jesus, about the vindication of Jesus, the Wisdom of God . . .
Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done,
John the baptist, in prison has just asked – are you the one who is to come??
And Jesus says Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. Look at my deeds!
20 Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done . . . because they did not repent.
Hang on there Jesus! Leave the repentance stuff to your miserable cousin! But he doesn’t seem to have heard . . .
21’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. 22But I tell you, on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you.
And he doesn’t stop there – he turns his eyes much closer to home –
23And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. Jesus had been living in Capernaum – he was theirs . . . the local boy . . . made good – after all the crowds were going after him and lauding him – ‘Jesus, he’s one of us . . .’
For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24But I tell you that on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.’
More tolerable for SODOM?? Well that Stung . . . no wonder we cut THAT out. That’s not the Jesus WE know . . .
Yet – Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds . . .
But we’ve cut the miracles out, they don’t fit our advanced ‘scientific’ view of the world . . . We’ve stripped out judgement – OUR Jesus wouldn’t say ‘Woe to you and you and you and it will be better for Sodom in the day of judgement . . .’ Not the Jesus made in our image . . . (because of course we neevr judge anyone . . .
We’ve reduced Jesus to a size we can handle, we can use to justify our lives. We’ve put him on the procrustean bed of the god of our imaginations who is as Freud rightly said, merely a projection of ourselves . . . We don’t do miracles . . . so neither did Jesus. We know what is right . . . we’re the judges – just read your news feed – we don’t need Jesus to judge the world.
We want a tame god, a domesticated god, a saviour who agrees with us, whom we can believe in, who measures up – so miracles?? Fairy tales. Judgement?? Don’t be silly – we know what is right and wrong – we know who the good people are and those who are not.
We have taken Aslan and tied him on the procrustean bed of a stone table, stripped him of his claws and his teeth and tied down with a knife through his heart. Because that is the story of the World – we would be better off without THAT Jesus . . . So we crucified him
And then we wonder why a church which so often does this – to get a more respectable faith – why is it dying . . . because it has rejected its Life.
Yet Aslan is not dead. On the third day, God raised him from the dead . . . He is the One who lives – and his word to us is the same. Behold Me. Behold my works. Repent and come to feast in my kingdom
We look out at the world and see so much that is wrong – but we don’t look too close to home . . . We judge the world . . . but the church is dying . . . why? What is wrong? What is wrong with the world – or closer to home, what is wrong with the church – or closer still, what is wrong with me?
‘What is wrong with the world? I am . . .’
St Paul gets this – Paul doesn’t look out at the world, he looks deeply into his own heart
21 [There] I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am!
As Jesus says – ‘whoever sins is a slave to sin’
Who will rescue me from this body of death?
25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Jesus is not the Saviour we were looking for. Indeed if we are honest, he probably isn’t the Saviour we want, BUT for the Salvation of the World – he is the Saviour we NEED
Yet . . . blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’ Blessed is anyone who doesn’t try to rewrite my story in their own image – who doesn’t feel the need to fit me to their story, blessed is anyone who accepts what I say at face value, who accepts my judgement of their life. For I judge justly.
I am numbered amongst the transgressors – I hang out with ‘the deplorables’ . . . Jesus hasn’t come to call the righteous, those who are right in their own eyes – he has come to call sinners to repentance – and I will feed THEM my Life . . .
Come to Jesus’ table, accept His judgement on your Life – be numbered with the deplorables . . . Say Yes to Him – receive His Life in bread and wine . . .