Scripture – Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – July 9, 2017
I’ve completely lost track of them now. I think they’re in the trunk of one of our cars; but they must be pushed back so far or under something else that we haven’t seen them in months. When we see new ones for sale in the store, we walk right by. It’s not that they’re expensive, not at all, but we already have some…somewhere …so why buy new ones? And because they are no longer in plain sight, we are no longer reminded to use them until, of course, we get in line and see that EVERYBODY else, and I mean EVERYBODY else is using theirs. So we beat ourselves up and vow repeatedly that next time, next time for sure, we will remember to bring our canvas bags to the grocery store. As the apostle Paul wrote, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
Paul shares his struggles in our first passage this morning from his letter to the Romans and, if we examine the backdrop running behind Jesus’ words in our second passage, we find struggling there, too. Jesus has just finished instructing his twelve disciples in what to do and where to go and what to expect as they go forth in his name to preach the good news. Then Chapter 11 opens with “Now when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and proclaim his message to their cities.” So while he’s on the road, and before we come to Jesus’ remarks in this morning’s passage, John the Baptist’s disciples approach Jesus with a question from John sitting back in prison: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus responds in his indirect but affirmative way with “Go and tell John what you hear and see…” and when John’s disciples leave, Jesus turns back to the crowds and speaks to them of the greatness of John the Baptist, his being the messenger preparing the way for the Messiah, and the deafness, cluelessness, unresponsiveness of both their listeners…this generation.
We come in when he says, “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another…” you’re not listening. We play the flute and you don’t dance. We wail and you don’t mourn. New Testament Professor Eugene Eung-Chun Park in San Francisco explains that the function of this initial parable is “to demonstrate the complete lack of proper response on the part of the people in general and especially [on the part of] the opponents of John the Baptist and Jesus.” John the Baptist has a demon because he’s not eating and drinking; Jesus is eating and drinking and he’s a glutton and a drunkard. Professor Park writes: “…the point is the common absurdity of the slanders directed against each of them, not the contrast.” Jesus intimates: you can’t have it both ways, folks.
Then, Jesus turns from the crowd to offer a prayer to the Lord of heaven and earth and we hear him, according to Professor Park, “narrow down the scope of his opponents primarily to the educated leaders of Israel,” by his saying “Father…you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent”. The infants, “the lowly in general and Jesus’ disciples in particular,” the infants are the ones receiving and hearing and heeding the news of the kingdom of God coming near.
And the infants are small in number, low in stature, lacking in power, a struggling minority of early Christians trying to advance the Jesus movement at the time Matthew wrote this gospel, some sixty to seventy-five years after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. It is with this backdrop of a struggling minority of Christians in mind that we are to interpret the final verses in our passage beginning with “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
It is also with this backdrop in mind and from our position in the current world order that we are called to remember and engage with the weary and heavy laden, those whose “struggles are profound and whose needs are overwhelming” – the infants of our own time, the lowly, the disenfranchised, the struggling minorities in every realm. Yale Divinity School Associate Dean Bill Goettler reminds us: “If Jesus is in fact insisting that his blessing is known, not by the mighty and the powerful, but by the infants and the lowly, then this is a time for us too to identify with the plight of those who live on the fringes of our society and the fringes of our lives.”
And, my friends, this morning in this time in our history in this culture in this current state of our country, our economy, it is also time to recognize our need for Jesus and to admit our need for the rest he offers. We are weary – no, not from walking miles for our daily drinking water or from huddling in boats to escape from the terror in our countries – we are weary from things like dutifully carrying our canvas bags to the grocery store when auto makers cheat on emission standards.
• We are weary from attempting to feed our families with healthy food when soda is cheaper than milk, when grocery manufacturers pay chemists to find ways to hide what harms us and has us coming back for more.
• We are weary from trying to save money when every message we get is to spend it.
• We are weary from trying to slow down and unplug when our technology demands instant responses.
• We are weary from bouncing around in a broken health care system….from holding our breaths as we drive over failing bridges.
• We are weary from absorbing daily the news that the missiles could reach us, the airlines could bump us, the boss could fire us and the security breach could affect us.
• We are weary from navigating our children through an overburdened public education system only to be met at the end with unaffordable runaway college costs.
• We are weary, my friends, from every kind of addiction from food to sex to alcohol to opioids.
• We are weary from having to be so vigilant so much of the time: as parents of young children and teenagers, as children of the aging, as caretakers of the disabled, as friends of the discriminated against, as citizens of our own country.
We are weary and we need Jesus.
We need Jesus not only to give us rest; we need Jesus to remind us that our trying so hard to do everything we can to bring about God’s kingdom of justice and equality and dignity and a healed planet and children who know they are special just because they belong to God…is the right thing to do. We need Jesus to remind us that although his yoke feels really heavy at times and we feel like a struggling minority and the battle rages on within us to just give up and give in, his coming kingdom offers peace and mutual respect and the kind of love we sang about during our Children’s Message.
We need Jesus; and the good news, my friends, is that we have Jesus. Paul wrote to the Romans: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from the body of death?” The same one who rescues us, as Paul says: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! The same one who sends us out with no sandals and no money to proclaim an unwelcome message also gently offers us rest for our souls and mercy for our mistakes and a perfect model for living. The same one who seems to demand much but who really only asks that we listen and love him in return by loving one another. The same one who can make life easy and our burdens light. I’m feeling rested already. Amen.