Inattention (Matthew 11:16-19)

Photo by D A V I D S O N L U N A on Unsplash

Jesus has just given a hard message to the crowd who had gathered after His   dialogue with John’s disciples. He had told them that John was the last prophet of the old order, and in fact also one of a different order, because John was Malachi 4:5-6 incarnate. That’s a difficult thing to grasp. So difficult it could cause those who heard it to turn away from Jesus and His teaching. To this same crowd Jesus now says, “He who has ears, let him hear.” In other words, if you have any spiritual hearing, listen! Jesus is not fooling around here. He is telling a profound truth. We do well to carefully consider what He has said and is about to say. 

All through His teaching Jesus sprinkled difficult to grasp concepts that challenged those who were listening. He did that so that those who wanted more of Him would be intrigued and drawn in, and those who were just along for the ride would be offended and leave. Jesus seems to have little patience for gathering a crowd around Him who are not sold out for the Father and His kingdom. He knows much of the crowd is only curious, not serious. Such people murmur and grumble as soon as their curiosity is no longer tickled. They are after entertainment, not spiritual truth. Jesus knows this. 

Grumblers and back-biters have no stomach to be challenged with difficult-to-accept spiritual meat. Their spiritual appetite is immediately put off, and they turn away in disgust. Those who are left are genuinely after truth. That is who Jesus is after. He wants His followers to be sold out for the Father and the Father’s ways. 

Unfortunately as Jesus looks at the crowd, He knows most of them are not really there for Him. But then, they weren’t really there for John either. 

“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: “ ‘We played the flute for you,  and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”’ But wisdom is proved right by her actions.”

In a most interesting way, Jesus is saying the crowd lacks spiritual maturity. They are like children playing games, so focused on themselves they refuse to respond to either happy music or sad. They saw John practicing baptism for repentance in the desert and they labeled him possessed. They see Jesus bringing the Good News of God everywhere He goes and they label Him unrighteous. In both instances they focus entirely on circumstance, as though they cannot hear a word being said by either John or Jesus. They are deaf to good news and sad news. No doubt such an analogy would be highly offensive to those listening. But Jesus is unconcerned about offending them. He knows they aren’t listening to a word He is saying. 

It is one of the saddest scenes in all of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus’ teaching is like the most beautiful music mankind could ever hear, being played by a professional orchestra to a crowd of people who have no ears to hear.

How unresponsive we are to the voice of God: we have to be told again and again what we must do and what we must avoid. There is so much self-will, so much in us which is opposed to God, that a single order from Him is not sufficient. What vile and intractable creatures we are, still are, even if regenerate.

A.W. Pink

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Michael Barrett noted, “Few things are more disappointing and frustrating to parents than unresponsive children.” If that is so for us, how much more so for God? Let us ask God to search our hearts and point out any ways we disappoint Him.