5 Pentecost • July 5, 2020
Genesis 24:34-38. 42-49. 58-67 • Psalm 45:11-18 • Romans 7:15-25a • Matthew 11:16-19
In the Name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Again, welcome back! If you’ve been wondering what church will look like in the future, this is it. A combination of zooming and in-person participation will likely be the norm for the foreseeable future. Social distancing and wearing masks will probably last for a year or so—a vaccine, at the earliest, will be produced in January and it will take six months to get most of us immune to the virus. So that means next June before we can again have Good Shepherd’s marvelous coffee hours. This is my optimistic estimate.
The good news for us is that we have discovered how to have close relationships via the Internet. Who knew! I never would have thought it possible, yet we are still church, in every sense of the word. And for that I am profoundly grateful.
In today’s Gospel Lesson, we find a compilation of five distinct sayings of Jesus, parables that Matthew has grouped together in the midst of an ongoing story.
“To what will I compare this generation?” he asks, and then answers his own question with a vivid description of sulky children, kids who just don’t want to play. His group wanted to play “wedding,” but they wouldn’t have it; then they tried to play “funeral” and they wouldn’t play that game either. To play is to be engaged, to connect, to participate, to listen. Unless one is willing to listen, the good news cannot be heard. Because the notion of the kingdom of heaven is difficult to get under one’s belt, it requires being engaged in the inquiry. And “this generation” wouldn’t play. Do you get the sense that Jesus is sad about the resistance he is encountering? Do you hear his disappointment that they won’t listen?
The next saying makes a similar point—whatever he and his old master, John the Baptist, did was interpreted to discredit them. John was an ascetic, living sparsely with no comforts. It was used as evidence that he was possessed by a demon—why listen to a crazy guy? Jesus did the opposite, using dinner parties as the venue for his teaching, and they called him a drunkard and a glutton—why listen to a depraved person? They found excuses to not engage, not to do the work of learning how to see the kingdom.
Matthew adds another line to this saying, one that I suspect was originally a stand-alone. But it fits. “Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds,” he says. This is a version of the saying with which he warned his disciples against false prophets. How can you tell who should be listened to? “By their fruits you shall know them.” Just look and see the results; that will tell you clearly everything you need to know. Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.
The third saying deals with how it is that the Gospel is so hard to grasp. Thinking is hard work. Notice that we are always having thoughts; there’s a conversation going on all the time in our minds—“roof brain chatter” the Asian gurus call it. Notice also that these thoughts we are having are all familiar thoughts—opinions and judgements and things we long since figured out. This is not thinking; it is having thoughts. To think is to create something new, and that is hard work. Interestingly, that is what infants do all the time. They think. They collect sights and sounds and feelings, and then work out what they mean.
“I thank you, Father … because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” If we will return to being an infant, to wondering what on earth is going on, what can things mean; if we will shed our already-knowing, our freeze-dried explanations, the infinite wisdom that we have accumulated over a lifetime; if we will become as a little child—the Father will reveal all things. Our smarts will not save us; only our open-minded listening.
The fourth saying sounds to me like Jesus musing, almost to himself, about his relationship to the Father, and the work he has been given. “Whatever I have, it has come from the Father who knows me. And my job is to show the Father to those whom I choose.”
And finally, the fifth saying: This has come to be known as the “Comfortable Words.,” and they used to be part of the Eucharist every Sunday as I grew up. It is an invitation and a promise. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” This is addressed to each of us, for no one is free of heavy burdens. The invitation is to come to Christ for rest. How to get the rest? “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.”
The yoke that Jesus is using as a metaphor is a wooden pole, shaped to go across a person’s shoulders. It is used to carry heavy burdens. Jesus is inviting us to replace our burdens that are weighing us down with his burden. This burden is a commitment to love and care for others, and to learn from Jesus. It is an invitation to come before him as an infant, open to learning what the world cannot teach. “For I am gentle and humble in heart,” Jesus says, “and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Amen