I was reading through Matthew 11-12 yesterday and picked up on what appears to be a common thread. I have yet to check if there is a larger context to this theme, but it appears a contrast is drawn out between 1) the simplicity of childhood that provides the proper perspective on faith and 2) the sophistication of adulthood that blinds one to the gospel.
Matthew 11 starts with Jesus’ assessment of John the Baptist and culminates with his assessment of his generation. The verdict is offered in terms of children. The ESV makes this jump out by using the word ‘playmates’ instead of ‘others’ in verse 16. A child sings a dirge (John), and the playmates reject him. A child plays a dance (Jesus), and the playmates reject him.
Jesus then condemns cities that had received major signs of power and had rejected the testimony. Lest we vainly try to guess why the testimony was rejected, he immediately offers a telling prayer to the Father, in which he says, “you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” Thus the child theme from his dialogue on John is brought forward to explain another rejection. John the Baptist was rejected. So too was Jesus’ commencement of the kingdom (i.e. eating and drinking). Now we find out that Jesus’ works of power were ignored as well. In each case, the response of a child would have been appropriate (cry if hurt, dance if happy, stand in awe if a witness to a mighty work).
From here we have the wonderful call to carry his yoke, for he is “gentle and humble in heart.” In the context, I have been trying to understand if there is further understanding to be found by continuing with the child theme. But to see if it might have already come to an end, I looked further into Matthew 12 to see if there were children implied or made explicit. Here’s what it says:
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
It seems to me that the disciples are being purposefully portrayed as childlike in this passage. They were hungry… hey, look, some grain! Let’s eat! The Pharisees then challenge Jesus and receive his rebuttal that “Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” It appears to me that this story serves as a continuation of the theme in Matthew 11 and confirms that the disciples were ones who mourned at the dirge and danced at the song.
I thus have concluded that the yoke passage (Matthew 11:28-30) is part of this larger theme. I just don’t know what to make of it.