a conversation by a roadside

Reflecting on Matthew 11 7-19

We are studying Matthew 11:7-19 for Sunday, July 5. This is the first in a series of lessons on Jesus as a wisdom figure in the gospels. This one really just gives us a hint of that, in the final line of our focus text. [Some unfortunately long notes on the text are here.] Here are some questions about the text we might want to consider, maybe in class:

At the beginning of our text, Jesus asks a series of rhetorical questions, that end with the declaration that yes, the audience went out to the wilderness to see a prophet (v9).

What is usually a speaker’s point in asking rhetorical questions? [We might want to think of times we have asked rhetorical questions ourselves – e.g., “What did I tell you?”]

What do we think might be Jesus’s point in asking these rhetorical questions? What might be the point in leading his audience to recognize that they had intended to witness a prophet?

[Here, it might be worthwhile for us to review what we know about prophets – for instance, based on last quarter’s lessons, what kinds of things do we expect prophets to say and do? If we thought we were going somewhere to hear a prophet, what would we be prepared for?]

Can we think of any contemporary examples of prophets, or of anything like the experience of going out to the wilderness to see a prophet? What do we think of? What makes those figures or events “prophetic” in the John the Baptist or ancient Hebrew prophets sense?

Have we ourselves “gone out” to hear or to see or to experience anyone or anything like that? Why, or why not? If we did, what was the impact on us?

Does that shed any additional light on what we need to think about Jesus’s remarks to the audience here? What light? Why is that?

What do we think is the relationship between “the kingdom of heaven” (v11-12) and “the covenant” or “the people of God” (see v13)? Why do we think that?

What does Jesus mean, do we suppose, that the Torah and the prophets “prophesied”? How did they prophesy? What did they prophesy?

Do the prophets and the Torah continue to prophesy today, do we think? Why do we think that? What do they prophesy today?

Jesus seems to have a complaint about “this generation” in verses 16-19. What’s the complaint, do we think? Why do we think that?

[Note: one way of thinking about the saying in verse 17 is that the children are complaining that their friends won’t “play ball.” A different way of thinking about it – suggested by our lesson book – is that the children aren’t wise enough to figure out how to respond to the “cues.” We might want to think about how this could affect the way we read Jesus’s comments.]

Would Jesus have the same complaint about our generation, do we think?

[More personal:] How well do we fit in with our generation on this score, do we think? How do we feel about that?

When Jesus says “wisdom is vindicated by her deeds,” whose deeds is he talking about? His? His audience’s (see vv20-24)? Someone else’s? [Whose?]

What difference does it make how we answer this question?

[More of a pushy question:] Is there a “wise” response to Jesus, do we think? What is it?

An aside: I often feel our “designated text” doesn’t give us enough context. I understand that published curriculum has to operate within strict length constraints, and to be fair, that’s why they give us a “background text” at the beginning of the lesson, which normally DOES provide more of the relevant context.

This week strikes me as a particularly glaring example of the problem. Most of the text that seems really relevant to the “wisdom” theme seems to lie outside our designated verses. The “deeds” or “works” Jesus says will vindicate wisdom – and the impact they ought to have on people – seem to be the topic of verses 20-24; the central issue of wisdom itself, and who really has it, seems to be the main point of verses 25-27; and the invitation that seems most relevant to presenting Jesus as a wisdom figure comes at the very end of the chapter:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30
travellers stopping for a conversation by a wooded stream

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