I was reading Matthew 11:20-24 — a passage that seems to be about God losing His patience. Right there in verse 20 it seems that Jesus is losing patience with several communities: “Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.”
This is some uncomfortable stuff. After all, isn’t this kind of negativity that cause people to flee Old Testament scriptures? This is the New Testament, we’re supposed to be through with all the smiting and destruction, right?
Yet Jesus has some really strong words. He tells the people of Chorazin “it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.” (Matthew 11:22b NIV) And in case that is too vague Jesus tells the people of Capernaum ” you will go down to Hades.” (Mathew 11:23b)
This is one of those passages that you wouldn’t include in a “seeker-sensitive” selection. It’s a little uncomfortable to start off with the judgment of God in an era where we believe anything is okay, and “after all, God wants us happy” is a preamble to doing things we know are against God’s will — or at least we should know.
Despite the harsh tone, reading this last week I saw this passage for the first time as a real passage of love, compassion, and patience. Wait, what? Yes, I said it, this bears witness to a loving and patient God. God loved the people of Chorazin and Capernaum and was patient with them. In verse 20 we were told that these towns Jesus was denouncing were ones “in which most of his miracles had been performed.” Jesus worked very hard to change their hearts. But they didn’t change.
God loves everyone. Every One. We are all sinners, and we all fall short. This passage (or any passage) should NOT be used as a battering ram against people or lifestyles we disagree with. Rather we should use this ourselves as a reminder that God is patient with us, but he requires we meet him part-way. We cannot expect to be able to keep one foot in church and the other foot in sinful habits and inherit the kingdom of God. We must accept the grace that we are given, and in that grace find forgiveness for those shortcomings that we repent.
I believe another lesson buried in this brief passage is that God expects more from those of us who have had opportunities to learn God’s teachings. Those of us who call ourselves “Christian” are expected to seek God’s will in our lives, and while God will patiently love us when we stumble, we ultimately are charged with allowing our lives to be changed by God and submitting our lives to Christ. It’s a matter of attitude.
What are your thoughts on this passage? I want to know what this passage means to you.