This is another one of those difficult passages that, if I'm being honest, I'd like to just skip and be done with. As I have said before, however, I don't want to run from the text just because it is hard. That's part of why I do this little blog; to give me the opportunity to think out loud and process through things in community. So, my primary question in reading this passage (and others like it) is simply, how is this story of Jesus denouncing (or speaking against) entire cities consistent with the image of Jesus from a text like John 3:17 which says, "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."
In our church community we use something called "LifeShapes" as the way we talk about following Jesus. This model was developed by Mike Breen (see www.3dministries.com) as tool to help people understand how to pursue a lifestyle of following Jesus based on the things Jesus taught and the way Jesus lived as revealed to us in the Bible. The "shapes" are just simple, memorable ways to remember the different principles that Jesus taught his disciples and lived out himself. "The Circle", I think, provides a helpful lens for reading a difficult text like this one. If you want an in depth explanation of the circle (I'm not going to do so here), check out the book "Building a Discipling Culture" by Mike Breen and Steve Cockram or you can listen to a message I gave on the circle at www.gracewaycharlotte.com. But here's how the circle helps me with a passage like this. In the towns that Jesus is denouncing, Jesus has done incredible things. There has been amazing miracles, yet the people of these towns (more like small villages) are not repenting (turning towards God). They have come face-to-face with God in the person of Jesus, yet they have continued on the path that they were on — one that (if it is not the path leading towards God) can only lead to death. The circle reminds us that Jesus taught his followers that when "kairos events" happen that we are given the opportunity repent (not only to turn away from something… but to turn towards God) and believe. The towns that Jesus names in this text are places where he, as The Message puts it, "worked the hardest but whose people had responded the least, shrugging their shoulders and going their own way." Essentially, I think Jesus is saying that all that he has done, no matter how miraculous, is worth absolutely nothing if we don't repent. None of it makes any difference it we simply continue walking the same path, shrugging our shoulders and going our own way. Jesus did come to save the world, not condemn it. But woe to us if we just keep walking with blinders on, because if we do we miss the point completely. I want to experience this life to the fullest, and we are given that opportunity in and through Jesus. I want to experience the breadth and depth of what God has in store for this life. I want to join with him in ushering in the Kingdom of heaven here on earth.
Lord, help me to seize the opportunities you give me today to repent and believe so that I might not miss all that you have in store.