I have wonderful memories of watching my son play with his two small boys, our grandsons. Throwing them in the air and catching them, holding and letting go, the rough and tumble, hugging and cradling, the hide and seek of playing that is gentle; shared at the pace and capacity of little bodies who have complete trust in their father’s ability to catch, hold and keep them safe and make them laugh! I suspect everyone has seen similar scenes and enjoyed the wholeheartedness with which children play and their expectation of attention and love.
I was reminded of this as I read Matthew’s text and reflected on how frequently Jesus uses the imagery of children to describe the behaviour of the adults around him. On this occasion, Jesus says:
But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘we played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’Matt. 11:16-17
Jesus gently mocks the contradictory responses made about him. They complained about John the Baptist’s way of life which was austere and self-restrained, accusing him of having a demon; and then they complained about Jesus, who celebrates the Gospel, eating, drinking and sharing with others and he is accused of being a glutton and a drunkard, consorting with the dregs of society. They are behaving like children when they don’t get their own way.
In the end, Jesus knows it is impossible to please everyone, ‘yet [we are told], Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’ (Matt 11:19b). Jesus, as the Messiah, is God’s Wisdom.
Matthew along with other biblical writers and those in the early Church, frequently identified Jesus with the female figure of Wisdom who we read about in Proverbs 8 or Wisdom 7. This continued the strong Jewish tradition which identified the Torah, God’s covenant with Israel, with God’s Wisdom.
Wisdom was the means by which everyone could discern and live as God intended for their lives in real and honest ways. But unlike the burden of the laws, the ethical and moral ideals which can be experienced as bitter, hard and unforgiving, Wisdom brings joy, peace, relief and justice, the fruits of her Spirit.
Matthew describes Jesus as the personified Wisdom of God whose deeds of power bring alive God’s reign of justice and mercy, fulfilling the law and the prophets. At this point, Jesus again lifts up infants and children as models of the way our relationship should be trusting and reliant on God.
Wisdom’s yoke is described as easy and her burden is light, for she is gentle and humble in heart. In Jesus, as God’s Wisdom and Word made flesh, we ‘find rest for our souls’ (v.29).
It is worth noting, God’s Wisdom is not for the conventionally wise and intelligent. Instead, Jesus tells us God has revealed God’s self to infants, as true Wisdom is justified by her deeds as she lives in right relationship with God.
God’s Wisdom is not first studied then practiced as an intellectual exercise, rather we experience God’s Wisdom embodied in Jesus. Christ does what Christ says. This is why the church’s response always includes action, unlike the children Jesus describes, who taunt and complain about him, finding reasons not to take action.
This is why our understanding of Wisdom is so important. The stresses of our lives these days are daunting and often we feel overwhelmed. Everyone seems to be confronted with enormous challenges, with griefs far exceeding our capacity and ability to cope on our own. Our society appears fractured and out of control. However, we are not meant to live alone as isolated individuals who are in complete control.
The lesson God desires us to understand is the invitation to surrender our independent ‘know it all, in control adult’ point of view and become vulnerable, like small children and infants dependent and trusting of God; just like my grandsons with their father.
God has chosen to reveal God’s Wisdom to infants because their response is open, spontaneous and trusting (v.25). When we turn to Jesus, we find Jesus there ready and willing to help us carry our burdens. Jesus beseeches us:
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’Matthew 11:28-30
Given the struggles many carry, weary and worn out with the spiritual, physical and emotional loads which you bear, the call to come and rest is very appealing. We truly desire relief and rest, compassion and reassurance.
However, we quickly discover Jesus does not offer to help us in the way most of us want. After all, when we are carrying a heavy weight, our desire is for Jesus to take it away and make it better and resolve the issue. However, what we desire and what we need may not be the same thing, and God’s concern is for our needs.
In this, we are once again shown God’s ways are not our ways. We are not promised the load will be removed; we are instead, urged to trust Jesus and place a different weight on our shoulders, his yoke.
A yoke was a wooden bar or frame joining two animals together so they could pull a heavy load. It is meant to be shared and it was used to train inexperienced animals in their work. It is an interesting image and metaphor for Jesus to use with us.
Jesus’ yoke is gentle and kind, easy and light and when we walk with faith; with Jesus as our companion who shares our burden, we are taught how to pray and trust. Jesus promises us by walking closer to him, our burdens will be lessened, and we will find rest in the middle of what is often a lonely and difficult journey.
We learn to manage and make the most of what often seems too hard and unfair. We can make sense of the challenges by shifting the way our heart, mind and soul respond, using Wisdom to bring us into a deeper relationship with God who knows us better than we know ourselves.
When we are challenged beyond our ability to cope, this is exactly the time when faith is calling us to surrender our ways and trust God’s way. Our burdens seem too much for us because we were never meant to carry them alone. The struggle is not meant to crush us, even though those around us might intend this and on our own the human condition in itself can overwhelm us; but Jesus shows us a path we might not choose to travel if we stay alone in this world.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths… it will be a healing for your flesh and a refreshment for your body.Proverbs 3:5-6,8
I want to end with a poem I have shared with you before which for me, sums up this trust:
As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.The Avowal’ by Denise Levertov 1997:6 The Stream and the Sapphire
Trust Jesus to help you carry your
load and find rest.
The Lord be with you.