Welcome to the Foundations Daily Podcast. My name is Helen, and this week we will be continuing our journey through Matthew’s Gospel. Our reading today is Chapter 11 verses 20-30. You can listen to the full passage at the end, but I’m going to focus on verses 25 and 29.
“At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children…… 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.”
I am a mum to 3 children, a qualified secondary school teacher, the manager of a nursery, and have worked with children and families here at STC Sheffield for the past 10 years. Given that teaching and investing in children has been such an important part of my life over the last 20 years, you would expect me to say that we should pay close attention when Jesus talks about children.
But why are these sections of the New Testament so important to look at?
When Jesus talks about children his words are not just meant to be a catalyst for ensuring we have a vibrant kids ministry at church; nor are they meant to make parents feel guilty because at 3am in the morning they don’t always “welcome the little children” like Jesus said we should!
No. When Jesus engages with children, or uses them as an example in his teaching, he does so to remind all of us that to follow him means that we are called to transform culture and live differently.
Talking about children; comparing ourselves to them, saying that we ought to be like them, was totally counter cultural in New Testament times. In Greek and Roman culture, children were viewed similarly to women, slaves and the old – namely that they were a burden on society and had little value or status in the wider community.
Jesus’ words cut powerfully through this cultural context. Through miraculous healings he shows that children are able to experience God’s blessing. He raises the status of children, saying that those who are lowly will be considered the greatest in God’s kingdom; and he speaks passionately about the fact that children can experience salvation for themselves. Jesus warns us that those who cause children to stumble in their faith may as well be drowned with a large millstone around their neck!
So, when we see mention of “little children” in Matthew 11, we know that what Jesus is saying is intended to be a challenge. And the area that he highlights in this particular passage is the issue of wisdom and learning.
Society today places a huge emphasis upon learning and academic success. In our family we are currently looking at universities, choosing 6th forms and visiting new senior schools, so I feel I can make that statement with a degree of confidence!
The word ‘learn’ means to become competent, to become proficient, to grasp or to master.
From my office window, I can see nursery children playing in the sand pit with a big yellow tractor, and making a glorious concoction of mud, water and leaves.
Little children have little academic learning. They are rarely proficient or competent. They don’t have a firm grasp of many concepts or ideas, and there are so many skills and abilities they have yet to master. They approach staff regularly with phrases such as “I can’t do it.” “I’m stuck.” “Can you help me?”
They have no SATS results, GCSEs, A-levels or degrees, and they are not weary, burdened, stressed or striving when it comes to learning. They do not think that they are more important that their playmates because of their academic abilities. And neither do they feel that a lack of wisdom and learning has robbed them of opportunity.
This is why being like little children is such a challenge to us; because so often as adults we forget that the skills, abilities and talents that we have are all God-given. The acquisition of knowledge in itself is not a bad thing, but a focus on worldly wisdom can quickly lead us away from Godly living and Christ like attitudes.
Has our level of proficiency led us to a place of self reliance and pride? Maybe we find our security through being able to demonstrate our competency? Perhaps our 1st or 2:1 proves that we can master things all by ourselves, or gives us a sense of entitlement? Or maybe the opposite is true. Do we feel the weight of comparison with others, weary with the constant striving to keep up? Perhaps struggling to grasp or master something in our school career has left us with feelings of inadequacy, of ‘never being good enough,’ that have stayed with us for the rest of our lives?
With these thoughts and attitudes we have taken on a yoke, a burden, that says that earthly wisdom and learning is our goal. We have forgotten that our priority is to learn from Jesus.
We need to remember that revelation from God does not depend upon our level of learning; it depends on the attitude of our heart.
And when we do focus on learning from Jesus, rather than relying on our own knowledge and understanding, he promises us something amazing in return. He promises to take the burden and he promises to give us rest.
If we can become like little children, if we can leave behind the weight, the weariness, the pride and the self reliance that comes from thinking wisdom and learning will give us security and status; then we will be living differently, and we will be a people able to transform the culture in our schools, our universities and our work places.
As we read this passage today, let’s ask ourselves the following questions:
Where do we need to learn from Jesus today?
Where do we need to replace worldly wisdom with Godly revelation?
Where do we need to be like children, and approach Jesus – the perfect Teacher – and say “I can’t do it.” “I’m stuck.” “Can you help me?”
Heavenly Father, help us to take off the yoke and burden that comes from striving to attain worldly wisdom or academic success. Help us to know that our identity and importance does not lie in these things. Give us a revelation of the things of your kingdom, and help us to learn from Jesus. Amen.
READING: Matthew 11:20-30
Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.’
At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
‘All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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.’