Matthew 11

Our intuitive, default notion is that it is judgment that elicits repentance, and ‘blessing’ is, well, blessing. So Matthew 11:20-21ff. gave me pause this morning:

Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”

In Matthew’s presentation, the ‘mighty works’ refer back to Jesus’ Galilean ministry, summarized in 4:23-25, and again at 9:35-38. After the Sermon on the Mount (chs. 5-7), chs. 8 and 9 are mostly devoted to stories of Jesus’ mighty works of healing and restoration.

My sense is that evangelical rhetoric (and perhaps popular assumptions, too) see such things as signs of affirmation and divine benevolence. And so they are — at least the latter — but I don’t recall hearing calls to repentance in contexts where such ‘mighty works’ are most promoted among Christians today. Nor do I recall the teaching about such works being framed in terms of repentance. If anything, the framework for understanding them is simply that ‘Daddy loves you!’ (or the like).

But that’s not Jesus’ understanding, not here and not elsewhere. Healing and restoration provide a gracious space for responding in repentance and turning in gratitude to the One who alone gives life. Otherwise, as Jesus continued in this passage, what came as blessing results in woe.


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