5th Week after Pentecost
July 05, 2020 | Bryan Simmons
Passage: Matthew 11:16-30
*Prefaced by a story about sitting together with other Iowans to watch fireworks together (safely), to be one conglomerate celebrating together*
In that experience, I found rest. I found rest from the troubles of our current day. It got me contemplating these texts even more: Paul’s text about how difficult it is for him to try to do good in this world, and how difficult it is to not only do good, but then the exact opposite happens for him.
Then I think of Jesus and how Jesus likens this generation to squabbling children, who, in the marketplace, arguably play some odd games: “We played the flute for you, but you did not dance; we wailed and you did not mourn.” I don’t know what your childhood games were like, but, I don’t know, that’s kind of odd to me. But He likens us, or at least the generation of His day, and I’m just going to go ahead and say the generation of our day, He likens us to squabbling children, constantly at odds with each other, trying to force the other into our game.
Then He compares John to Himself, how the crowds receive John, who He regards as the ultimate prophet. He says, “John came neither eating or drinking,” the pinnacle of what a good prophet should be, solely dedicated to the proclamation and nothing else at all, or to even bother himself with making real clothes. “He has a demon,” the crowds say, but then Jesus comes, the very Son of God, the One who should know how to treat others in this world; the One for whom creation was created in the first place ; the One who has an authority in the law. And this guy sits down with drunks, tax collectors, prostitutes, liberals or conservatives, whichever side you sit on. Well, He’s a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of all these sinners.
It seems nothing is new under the sun. It seems, while we can complain and whine about how divisive we are in our society today, I don’t know if it has changed much over the years. And I think Jesus’ words of condemnation speak loudly to His generation as to our generation, and all the generations before it, and likely the generations after. Because we have this inner fight within us; we have this inner struggle within us: we hear the words Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” We hear Jesus say, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” And then we say, “Christianity is hard.”
It can’t be both. It can’t be hard to take Jesus’ yoke upon yourself when Jesus Himself says that it is easy, and that His burden is light. So, what’s going on? What’s going on between us and Jesus? And I would say, we are like the children in the marketplace: trying to force our game and getting so angry when people don’t want to play by our rules. The burden is heavy when you are a Christian because you struggle with the burden of your own inner selfishness. Even when you’re doing good, and you think you’re working for the righteous cause, you get in your own way because the world, as clear as you see it, it isn’t as clear as you think.
We’re all guilty of this. We’re guilty of this struggle to mold the world into the way we see it. According to Christ, that’s not our job; it’s God’s job. It’s God’s work to usher in the Kingdom; we are to be participants of that. The struggle that Paul has is the struggle that we have as we look at the things to do, and we say, “I’m going to take it upon myself to do them,” then we feel guilty when we don’t, or we try to make others feel guilty when they don’t. Because we have a handle on it.
I think, in our modern era, we have justice pretty well covered, that fight for justice, and we have righteousness covered. The problem is: the motivation is not coming from love. That is the very thing that makes it so hard; that is the very thing that makes being a Christian so difficult. Because it should be easy. We ought to, out of a heart of love, be able to proclaim, be able to look at our enemies as those in need of God’s love, not as objects to be defeated but as people to be loved. Our righteousness and our work, when it does not stem from God’s love for all creation, take that extra step and becomes our will and not God’s will.
It doesn’t mean that we’re not out there, doing the work. Doesn’t mean that we don’t fight for justice and uphold righteousness. But it means that we don’t lord it over those who lag behind. It means that we see all people as those whom God has created in God’s image. Out of this love, the work can be easier, but it is finding that love that is difficult. But Jesus continues to invite, “come to me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” I will give you assurance that the troubles you face today are worth facing. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.”
We may like to say, “well, Jesus got angry in the temple,” but that’s only because we like to become Pharisees ourselves, and out of that self-righteousness, we stand to be the money-changers being condemned in the temple and not Jesus holding the whip. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Jesus was uniquely qualified to judge. “I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” The work becomes easier when you follow the one who went to the cross to die for you and for me so that we may know the ultimate love of God, for if God was willing to go through that, out of that love we can see the world in a different way, not a world that God is trying to correct through coercion, but a world that God has redeemed through the death and resurrection of God the Son. It is a world where we have a unique offering as the Church to show grace in the midst of our fight, to show love and compassion in the midst of challenge, to truly work for unity and peace with the same love that has been given to us in Christ Jesus.
I want to help the poor, but instead of time and time again doing all I can to help the poor, I succumb to my own comfort. I want black lives to matter, but I know that I fall into my own comfort of the privilege that I have of not having to deal with it on a daily basis. I want God’s Kingdom to come, but I know, for that to happen, I need to give up what I perceive to be more control over my own life. So instead, I bargin with this: that I want to know Christ crucified for the sake of the world. I want that to so deeply change me and who I am at my core, so that whatever can come out is of the Lord. Out of a deep heart of love, we can change the world in incredible, unexpected ways. Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.