5 PENTECOST - PROPER IX - A - 17 MATTHEW 11:16-19,25-30
Today’s gospel lesson and Epistle both contain a paradox. St. Paul seems to be unable to express himself in his message to the young Church at Rome. “I do not understand my own actions,” he begins. I am sure that got his audience’s attention.
And from there on his words are both contradictory and confusing. “I can will what is right but I cannot do it.” In desperation, he seems to throw up his hands only to fall back on the grace of God, which has been given to us through Jesus Christ, both his and our means of rescue.
In contrast, Jesus begins today’s gospel with a game he most likely played as a child. It was common among Jewish children of his generation. The children are divided into two groups you see, those pretending to play musical instruments or singing, and the other responding in a manner opposite of what would have been expected. Think of a wedding and a funeral for example.
Christ is drawing a parallel to the Jewish leaders of the day who responded harshly to both John Baptist and to himself. John, they deemed as being too ascetic, remember the clothes he wore and the locusts he ate, not to mention the message he brought? Christ was simply too liberal in the company he kept and in his willingness to dispense the love, mercy and the hospitality of God to those deemed unacceptable by society’s standards.
As then, as now, people do not like the challenge of the kingdom message. It is either too ascetic for some, that is, too demanding. Or too liberal, meaning not everyone agrees that God’s love and mercy should be readily available to all.
They prefer to follow their own vision rather than “welcoming” God’s. Thus, the paradox Jesus presents. God “hides” the mysteries of the kingdom from those who refuse “to see” or “to welcome” because they are blinded to the true values of life by intellectual arrogance and by pride.
To those whom the world views as ignorant and incapable of understanding such things, Jesus says, God does give full understanding and revelation by the Spirit of God because they are open-minded, humble, and expectant.
When we stop and listen to St. Paul’s struggle, the paradox of his trying to live the gospel, in spite of himself, and Jesus’ illustration of the games people play in refusing to receive the grace and love of God we cannot help but see something of ourselves in both examples. What Paul is struggling with we all struggle with. “I can will what is right,” he says, “but I cannot always do it.” None of us can.
However, the point he is making is in his confession to the church at Rome and to us who hear his words today is that we can only be rescued from such a dilemma by the grace of God, which has been given to us through Christ Jesus our Lord.
We are all here today because at some point in our lives we said “yes” to God’s invitation to join His family through the waters of Holy Baptism and to commit ourselves to living out our baptismal vows in such a manner as to be pleasing to God. Each of those promises made concluded with the response and “with God’s help.”
For like Paul, once we commit ourselves to God we quickly discover that there is nothing good that dwells within us that, is our flesh. The spiritual side of our being will always be in competition with our physical side. We live with that paradox. Grace is the answer to the dilemma.
In Jesus’ example, we can go through life holding to a completely different and sometimes opposite vision than that of God’s. We do it when we try to avoid the challenge of the gospel. We want to pick and choose the parts we like and avoid the ones that are demanding. When we do, God “withholds” his revelation from us.
We do not see the world as God sees it. We are too busy looking at it from our point of view, which is narrow and biased. “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds,” Jesus says. Wisdom has been defined as the power to see the world, ourselves, and our concerns as God sees them and to order our lives in light of that vision. To refuse to do so is to continue to “play the game” of life the way we want by refusing “to see,” and by refusing “to welcome.”
Jesus offered his generation a chance to embrace a different vision. He taught it in their streets and their synagogues. He lived it wherever he went. He showed it in the love and mercy displayed in the many healings he performed. The people did not want it. For the most part, they refused to join in.
He offers it to us today in his closing invitation of what the Prayer Book calls the comfortable words “come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” However, his words contain a challenge. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me…for my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
The Rabbis of Jesus’ day spoke of the yoke of the Law of Moses. For God’s people the Law had become a burden and hardship due to the rabbi’s strict interpretation. Jesus is offering a different yoke, which, because it comes from his mercy and love, is easy to bear. The yoke of the Lord is lighter than that of the Pharisees in spite of the fact that His standard is higher.
The welcome Christ offers to all who abandon themselves to His mercy is the welcome God offers through Him. This is the invitation, which pulls back the veil and lets us see who the Father really is. Although St. Paul does not mention it, it is the yoke of Christ he struggled with as we all do if we choose to take it upon ourselves. However, the reward is greater than any effort we may put forth.
To wear Christ’ yoke is to abandon our own self-interest and the self-imposed burdens that come with them. Sustained by Faith, Hope, and Love every “burden” becomes light. No more is happiness and joy a product of our own making.
Joy grows knowing that God is Love and that our Faith and Hope rests in Him who has rescued us from the power of sin and death by His death, and through it opened the way to eternal life to all who believe in Him. AMEN+