Matthew 11: 16-20; 25-30a
What awkward, contrary creatures we humans are!
No wonder Jesus ‘voice’ in the reading from Matthew this morning sounds a tad annoyed! The writings suggest that the ordinary people as well as the powerful seem to be complaining.
It would seem he thought you couldn’t do right for doing wrong!
If we need evidence for that opinion of mine just cast your mind back over the last couple of months and our collective behaviour regarding the efforts of government to ‘keep us safe’ from the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Lock us down/let us out; break our bubble/don’t let them into our bubble; open the borders/ keep our borders tight .... We haven’t known what we wanted. It seems we are, on the one hand, proud of the way our government acted quickly to keep us safe, and that it was able to move us rapidly back to a level-one plan for collective well-being; and on the other annoyed and accusatory if any glitch in the plan should show up - even if fixed immediately. ‘‘“Gotcha” see, you are not perfect’ .... we seem to gloat. Yet, I expect, most of us are likely glad it is not us who have the responsibility for 5 million people, their health and their economic well-being. These times are different from our common expectation, we don’t know the best way to respond, many of us are confused as to what might be best - even not sure what yard-stick to judge by.
It seems we still reflect Jesus’s observation, and that our generation too is ‘like children in the market place’ as he said ‘we played the flute for you and you did not dance; we wailed and you did not mourn.”
We are hard to please, we whinge and whine with our default position being to measure everything by our individual needs and wants and fears at a particular moment in time with whatever information, factual, false or partial, that we have acquired.
Matthew’s audience were his fellow Jews. In particular he was addressing those who had caught something of the power of Jesus’s teaching but who were now a bit uncertain about that same teaching as the Pharisees reasserted their authority and power after the fall of the temple. These embryonic Christians, Jesus followers, did not want the deprivations and rigours of following John the Baptist (he was a bit too strange), and they had shifted beyond the strict interpretation of scripture offered by the Pharisees. Yet the compassionate, celebratory light touch of Jesus way seemed a bit too ‘easy’ (way too normal) ... perhaps the Pharisees might be right after all!
It is these conflicted people that he is addressing.
I feel confused in myself about our current times. Like so many other people I am afraid of what is happening in the world :
I do want us all to avoid the virus - so tighten our bubble
I do want economic security for people - so open up our borders
And, I do want a world for my great granddaughters - so pay attention to the things that will halt and positively impact the race to climate catastrophe; legislate climate change protection measures if you must!
But I don’t want to change my lifestyle too much - so let me continue air travel, to plastic wrap my food leftovers, and drive my petrol car.
Obviously I don’t have it all sorted!
I feel a bit like I’m a ‘self-destructive conformist’ and I want to be better than that. Most of us want to be better than that. Yet unless we make changes to how we live with the finite resources of planet Earth, and with the impact of a previously unknown virus, that is what we will be.
We said we wanted to hold on to the lessons we learned during the lockdown in levels three and four. As I read what others said about those lessons I was aware they were about compassion, love, kindness, time to walk and think, time to engage our creativity, time for our families; time to scale back our material needs, to restrict our spending. But as we have returned to a more pre-lockdown lifestyle it is these very things that have already begun to take second place again to our ability to acquire more material goods.
Paul’s letter to the Romans speaks into that “I don’t understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate”
It is somehow very comforting that Matthew depicts Jesus getting annoyed at the contrariness of his contemporaries, and Paul declares his inner conflicts. We are just like them! I know I am in these respects.
And just like them we too are expected to think beyond our own fears and frailties and see the bigger picture. Just like them we are being encouraged by our common story to think and feel beyond our personal wants and sense of entitlement, toward justice for all people and beings and to care for our earth home.
Don’t for one minute be fooled by Matthew’s words put encouragingly into the mouth of Jesus,
“Come to me all you who 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 of heart! And you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”.
Hear this metaphorically if you will but do not think it is a literal description of the Jesus way! The writer of Matthew was bound to write that given his historical context about 30\40 years after Jesus death, with Romans destroying the the temple and Jerusalem, and the Pharisees claiming their right as the true authority on the interpreting of scripture. He was endeavouring to encourage the struggling group of Jesus followers. We too need encouragement!
It is not easy to demand justice for all people, it is not easy to keep 5 million people safe and happy. It is not easy even to change even our own lifestyles to secure a future for our own great-grandchildren let alone people we have never met. Yet the burden rests on us to sort our internal conflicts and our fears, and to seek change in our world in our own time and not look to a future time beyond our life time whether in earth or heaven! We need encouragement!
If we think our faith and church allegiance privileges us or gives us special insights we need to think again. No encouragement here! I think, rather, that these things, our faith and church, give us an extra dimension of responsibility to act in the interests of others and of our planet.
Jesus would seem to be clear about this when a little earlier in this chapter he instructs a messenger from John the Baptist to respond to John’s inquiry as to whether or not he, Jesus, was the one they were waiting for to lead the way into the new and different future - “Tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the leper’s are cleansed .... the poor have good news brought to them.” Then Jesus concludes his comments saying “Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” He is tapping into the story that has shaped his life: that story locates him as a prophet of Wisdom, the one who, as ancient texts tell it, was God’s delight when the earth was created; the one who seeks life giving relationships, insists on justice and is prepared to shout in market places.
We too are shaped by this story, it gives meaning to our life - I can’t speak for you, but because you are here this morning I suspect it is true for you too. Within it I can know who I am and what it is I need to be doing in the complex confusion that is our world today, even if I don’t always do what I would like to do or remember where my touch stone is to be found ...
I just need to take time to remember,
I just need to hear the threads of the story from time to time.
I just need to see the impact of the good news for those who are in need acted out
I just need to be encouraged not to forget that the world is bigger than my close horizon; that the earth and its creatures are more significant than my plastic wrapped leftovers; that the health of all the people more important that my personal sense of entitlement.
I want to stand in the line of Wisdom’s prophets who are ‘vindicated by their deeds.’
I just need you all to help me remember.