Proper 9 / 5 Pentecost — 9 July 2017
St. Peter’s, Bettendorf – 9:00 am
Track 1: Genesis 24:34-38,42-49,58-67 | Psalm 45:11-18 |
Romans 7:15-25a | Matthew 11:16-19,25-30
Romans 7:15-25a | Matthew 11:16-19,25-30
“To what will I compare this generation?” [Matt. 11:16]
“To what will I compare this generation” indeed! What a thoroughly contemporary sentiment! Or, as perhaps we might say, reading the paper or watching TV news or checking the newsfeed on our computers or phones – as I do say! – “What is your problem?! Just get over it!”
As anyone knows, who has ever been in a position of leadership – in politics, or the church, or education, or business, or as a parent – no matter what you do, somebody is going to complain about it. You can’t please everyone. And sometimes it seems like you can’t please anyone. Poor John the Baptist – he comes out of the desert a severe figure of strict asceticism, looking like a reminder of the great prophet Elijah, warning about, even threatening, the near coming of God’s Kingdom – and people whine about that. Poor Jesus – he takes up a similar theme of God’s Kingdom, but he walks around the countryside and the lakeside, proclaiming a message of love and acceptance, visiting people in their villages and sharing meals with anyone who will eat with him, from Pharisees to outcasts – and people whine about that. Just get over it!
In the Gospel today we hear some of Jesus’ sayings which Matthew the Evangelist has strung together. Not necessarily originally said by Jesus all at the same time. Most of them come from a tradition of the sayings of Jesus, which the evangelist Luke also uses, but Luke often strings them together in a different way.
Actually in today’s reading from Matthew 11 one of the sayings has been left out, as you may have noticed in the bulletin listing: verses 20-24, in which Jesus reproaches the cities of Galilee. I have no idea why the Lectionary Gnomes left out these verses; the Lectionary Gnomes do a lot of things I don’t understand. But it doesn’t really make much difference. If they had left these verses in, then I would feel a need to preach about them, and I’d rather not! You can look them up when you get home. Or not. And that’s okay too.
Anyway, in the next section of today’s Gospel reading we hear Jesus thanking his Father that the mysteries of God's Kingdom have been hidden from the wise but revealed to children. I am reminded of St. Paul's reminder to the Corinthians [I.1:25], "God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength." Our own standard operating assumption is that for Knowledge we have to consult the Experts. (An Expert, of course, is anyone with an attaché case more than ten miles from home.) (Maybe I shouldn't knock it; here I am sixty miles from home with a vestment bag! I don’t know whether that counts!) I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from serious Bible study, or the study of theology or church history or any of that stuff – quite the contrary! – but we do need to know that all that academic stuff is not a requirement for entry into the life of the Kingdom. Jesus did not say “Study me,” he said “Follow me.”
Jesus goes on to say, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” This line has been referred to by New Testament scholars – the “wise and intelligent” folks from a couple of verses earlier! – as “the thunderbolt from the Johannine blue” – that is, it sure sounds a lot like St. John’s Gospel, and St. John’s Gospel is as we know pretty much sui generis, in literary style unlike the other three Gospels, and (probably) rather later in composition. On the contrary, I am inclined to think that this fairly explicit claim by Jesus about his relationship with God the Father comes out of the sayings in the Jesus tradition from which the Gospels are compiled and composed. John the Evangelist didn’t just make up stuff like this!
Jesus continues: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. [Y’all remember the “Comfortable Words”?] Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” “Learn from me” – but not “take a study course” but “Take my yoke upon you.” But a yoke is a means of harnessing oneself or one's beast, to work; furthermore, Christ's yoke is the most demanding yoke possible, for it requires a total commitment to the mission of God's Kingdom. And yet this burden is the one that liberates and truly refreshes and renews; as we pray day by day, "to serve you is perfect freedom." “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Unlike the yokes and burdens of some religious (or other cultural) obligations, Christ’s yoke is a yoke of grace, and his burden a burden of love.