Discover more from Faith Seeking Understanding
Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild?
Reflecting on the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Three Days after Sunday (Year A)
Psalter: Psalm 47
Old Testament: Isaiah 51:1-3
Gospel: Matthew 11:20-24
Psalter: Psalm 119:161-168
Old Testament: Jeremiah 18:1-11
Gospel: Matthew 11:20-24
Redeeming Sustainer, visit your people and pour out your strength and courage upon us, that we may hurry to make you welcome not only in our concern for others, but by serving them generously and faithfully in your name. Amen.
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).
Many years ago, I was leading a Bible study on the Gospel of Matthew. I remember one evening in particular when the assigned reading for the week included chapter 23 where Jesus excoriates the religious leaders for their hypocrisy. A woman in the study was quite scandalized by the portrait of Jesus in that chapter. She struggled to believe that Jesus was not always gentle, meek, and mild. She was quite surprised to read about a very judgmental Jesus.
It is not an accurate generalization in contrasting the Old and New Testaments, but it is a common one that the God of the Old Testament is angry and wrathful while the God of the New Testament is different deity who is loving and kind. An overview of both Testaments demonstrates this generalized view to be incorrect.
A full reading of the four Gospels reveals that Jesus is not only kind and merciful and reflects the very love of God that we see in the Old Testament; but it is also true that Jesus has much to say about judgment. He gets angry at injustice and he has harsh words for the hypocrites in his midst. Jesus clearly hated hypocrisy.
In Matthew 11:20-24 Jesus pronounces serious warnings against certain cities in his day.
“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.”
Jesus is referring specifically to his ministry of miraculous works performed by him and witnessed by its citizens. In spite of what they had seen, the people rejected Jesus as God’s Messiah. Such rejection will result in judgment.
Many people misunderstand judgment in the Bible because they think of judgment as people getting what they deserve. That is certainly part of what judgment entails, but the larger idea of judgment in the Bible is putting things right; and putting things right also includes mercy. Justice is giving to the orphans what they have been denied. Justice is giving to the poor what they have lacked. Justice is returning to the marginalized what has been taken away by the powerful. Justice is restoring to the world and all of creation what God has meant it to be from the very beginning—very good (Genesis 1:31). Justice is making things the way they should be.
Judgment is not a denial of God’s love, but the demonstration of it. A God who does not judge is a God who does not care. Tom Wright states,
Face it: to deny God’s wrath is, at bottom, to deny God’s love. When God sees humans being enslaved – and do please go and see the film Amazing Grace as soon as you get the chance – if God doesn’t hate it, he is not a loving God. (It was the sneering, sophisticated set who tried to make out that God didn’t get angry about that kind of thing, and whom Wilberforce opposed with the message that God really does hate slavery.) When God sees innocent people being bombed because of someone’s political agenda, if God doesn’t hate it, he isn’t a loving God. When God sees people lying and cheating and abusing one another, exploiting and grafting and preying on one another, if God were to say, ‘never mind, I love you all anyway’, he is neither good nor loving. The Bible doesn’t speak of a God of generalized benevolence. It speaks of the God who made the world and loves it so passionately that he must and does hate everything that distorts and defaces the world and particularly his human creatures.
There is no doubt that both Testaments of the Bible speak of God as judge. That makes perfect sense since God is perfectly just. Love and justice... and judgment cannot be separated from each other. One cannot have justice without judgment. The Apostles’ Creed affirms that Christ will come “to judge the living and the dead.” But what that means cannot and must not be divorced from cross and resurrection.
Nothing of what I said gives Christians license to pronounce judgment where they think they see it. God is the judge and God alone; and God has not called his people to jury duty.
PRAYER: Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Check out my Energion author page here.