This next action of Jesus may be a bit shocking to those who have always thought of Jesus as the “gentle Nazarene.” For quite some time by now he had been going from town to town teaching and performing all sorts of miracles. But Matthew tells us that in time Jesus “began to criticize openly the cities in which he had done most of his miracles.” The Greek verb is oneidizo, which means (1) to find fault in a way that demeans the other, or (2) to find justifiable fault with someone (Bauer places Matt. 11:20 in the second category). The NIV has “denounce,” the NET has “criticize,” and others translate “reproach.” Matthew goes on to explain that Jesus was criticizing them “because they didn’t repent of their sins.” They should have listened to his message, been convinced by his power to do miracles and repented of their sins – but they didn’t. The following verses describe the seriousness of their failure — the fate of Capernaum is “to be thrown down to Hades, the place of the dead” and even the wicked city of Sodom is to be judged less severely. So no matter how you look at it, Jesus was justifiably critical of those who did not repent.
Now the question for us is: Do we have a responsibility to act in a similar way? Is it Christ-like to pronounce the doom that is about to fall on those who have had every chance to repent and refuse to do so? Or is this the prerogative of Jesus the Son of God alone? But wait, didn’t we start with the premise that Jesus lived out his life as one of us, not dipping into his divinity for power unavailable to us? If he resorted to his power as the eternal Son to perform miracles, then of course we cannot be expected to live like Christ in those areas. But we have taken the other position. He lived among us as one of us, drawing upon the Spirit in the same way that we can.
That we can proclaim the truth of the Scripture is perfectly clear. In fact, we are called to do that. That we can declare the tragic results of disbelief is clear. However, we also know that we are to act in love. Jesus certainly loved the people he came to die for, even those he is speaking to in such a severe manner. His way to express love in the passage under consideration may seem strange to us but we can leave that with him. What we do know is that whatever we decide to do when we meet resistance to the good news we are sharing, we are to do it in love. I believe our conscience will be a good guide at this point. Correct sinfulness where appropriate but do it in a way consistent with love.