Nehemiah has completed a great work, and as Karen reminded us yesterday, given the circumstances, “Only God” should be the natural response. Chapter 7 opens by adding that in addition to the wall, the doors have been set up, and the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites have been appointed.
At this point, Nehemiah stops and takes stock, and lists the returned exiles, by number and family group, including the numbers of the aforementioned gatekeepers, singers and Levites. I tend to read through long lists of family names and numbers fairly quickly, but as a singer, I did find it interesting that Nehemiah specifically names and numbers the singers as a distinct group. I assume this signifies the importance of worshiping and praising God for the way he is restoring his people. Of course, lest any singers get carried away with their own importance, we should note that when they are numbered in the totals at the end, they are listed right along side the horses, mules, camels and donkeys 😝.
Whereas Nehemiah 7 is a time to pause after a great work and take stock, Matthew 12:38-49 contains three more interactions with Jesus that should make us draw breath, sharply, and force us to stop and take stock. Indeed this whole section of Matthew seems to have that effect of a continual shock that causes us to think, if we read it correctly—that is, without it all feeling too familiar.
Perhaps that’s the message for us of the first engagement, about “the sign of Jonah”. Does the account of Jesus as we read it and hear it preached week by week affect our lives? Jesus points to the men of Nineveh, and to the queen of the south, who will both condemn those who have not recognised the significance of Jesus and repented.
In the section immediately following, we are suddenly talking about exorcism of evil spirits. Perhaps that seems a little bit disconnected. I suspect however Matthew deliberately has it straight after the previous discussion of repentance, as a conclusion that takes the point Jesus has made even further. Again this should cause us to stop and take stock. Is it enough to repent? To stop sinning? To clean out the old, but leave the place empty? We need not only to clear out the things that are not of God, but also be filled with God, and allow his Holy Spirit to take up residence. We need to ask ourselves if we are busy trying to be morally good but too busy for God.
I often wonder how painful it must have been for Mary and Jesus’ siblings to hear his response in this last interchange in today’s reading. Jesus has basically said to all, that his blood relations are of no significance to him. Ouch! This too should make us stop and take stock.
The whole of the Old Testament seems to base the notion of “God’s people” on family lineage. (I say “seems to” because a more careful reading—particularly with the benefit of New Testament hindsight—suggests that it was always about grace regardless of who you were related to.)
Rather, Jesus elevates his disciples—those who have left all to follow him—to be his family. As Paul puts it in Romans 8:17, we are fellow heirs with Christ(!), because we are children of God, having recognised the significance of Jesus and not only repented but received the spirit of God as a spirit of inheritance.
Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart… rather, stop and take stock. Recognise the significance of Jesus, repent, open your heart to his Holy Spirit and know that you are a child of God and an inheritor with Christ of God’s riches.