Those of you with children or nephews and nieces, do you remember the frustration of never being able to make the world right for them when they were determined simply to cry. Initially I would try to cajole my children: I tried food, drink, a toy, songs, laughter, cuddles, or a nap – but sometimes whatever I did, it was never right. Occasionally, it still feels like this is what is happening with people around me and it makes me think about how and why we are pressured to ‘change to suit others’.
We live in a world and a wider community where truth or fact have become prisoners to a wide range of perspectives; depending where you stand, of course. We have commodified facts to suit our own circumstances, and fear often drives and shapes the definitions we choose. Simply listening to others becomes the hardest thing to do; letting go of our own thinking, and not be shaping our answers before the other person has even spoken, already certain we have the right answer and they don’t.
Having access to instant answers, whatever and however we want it, our spirits become weary and overloaded, full of malaise and sorrow as we see and experience disagreement and division; we start to speak from darkness rather than lightness.
Matthew speaks to this sense of illogical unreality about the childish nature of the responses to Jesus, and his lack of surprise at the contradictory nature of human behaviour. (Matt.11:15-19, 25-30)
To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places 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
John the Baptist came neither eating or drinking and he was accused of being possessed by a demon. Jesus came eating and drinking, a friend of all the deplorables and rejected, and they accused him of being a drunkard and a glutton. Nothing is ever acceptable to those who are criticising and who have already decided their opinion. Yet Matthew reminds us:
Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. Matt.11.19
Its what we do in response to the apparent incoherence and madness of rejecting God’s love, that will guide us through these untrusting and ungenerous times. In reality, the quarrelling, the unkindness and childish responses are a way of refusing God’s help and love. If I’m too busy watching the ‘other’, refusing to accept the outstretched hand of friendship, wanting my own way at all costs, then I can ignore the invitation to meet God in the marketplace. I don’t need to answer God’s love and inclusiveness in the world, I don’t need to respond to God’s grief when we turn away and make others turn away too. Just like my children, fault can always be found when they, or we, want to.
And our church can do the same. When we’re called to be different and listen to God rather than our friends, we can always find convenient reasons not to go the extra mile, give the extra help, or offer the extra comfort or go against my own benefit. Priests are just as bad. We too can be as resistant as any child or anyone else. Its surprising how often we are all tempted not to be generous, welcoming and gracious so we can hold tightly onto our grudges, judgements and rules to keep others out. Its sad how often such temptation becomes our normal way of living so we no longer see the temptation we are living.
John the Baptist’s counter cultural life as a Nazarite was offensive to many. Jesus’ inclusion of the despised and outcast in God’s kingdom with his friendships was frequently a deeply felt insult to those around him, given the history of the Jews as the ones with a special relationship with God. For Jesus to be stretching God’s love to include others was unacceptable. What was the point of being special if everyone could join?
Matthew shifts the story from the illogical behaviour of those around Jesus, to Jesus’ explanation of his inclusiveness and its extraordinary generosity. Jesus once again reminds us, our understanding is not his. We are turned on our heads again. Being wise and intelligent doesn’t mean we will see and understand God, in fact God is speaking to those who are vulnerable, who have learned the world is structured against them, they have open minds and hearts, they are listening rather than talking, they are looking for God rather than looking at one another.
As Jesus explains his relationship with God as Father, God as Son, and God in community, we are overwhelmed with grace.
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. Matt.11:28-30
If only we can ask God to help us put down our resistance to love, our tendency to hate or fear others whom we despise, put down our desire to be special at the expense of others, forget our fear of losing out to someone else, of being seen as less, of not even being seen, the burden disappears. The exhaustion we feel from always having to carry our resistance will fade away like a bad dream, the illogical nature of our fears and griefs will melt away, and you will find rest for your souls. We don’t need to be frightened. We simply need to trust.
The challenges of our lives will still be there, but you will not be loading yourself up with unnecessary burdens, fears and vulnerabilities about being worthy; and the peace God gives us, which passes all understanding will be shared with all with whom we welcome, individually, as a community and as a church. It is life-giving.
Wisdom reminds us, letting go of all our burdens and following Jesus in loving, welcoming and offering God’s justice and peace to everyone in God’s kingdom, is what brings God into our lives and the lives of those around us.
The Lord be with you.
Jarvis, C.E., Johnson, E.E. [Gen. Eds]. 2013. Feasting on the Gospels Matthew, Vol. 1 Chapters 1-13. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.