Matthew 11:16, 25-30 July 5th, 2020
Pentecost 5 Proper 9
There is some question about whether or not people can change. The people who are spiritual and psychological experts basically agree that people can learn better ways to cope with who they are and how they are, but in the end people don't really change all that much. So how you are is the way your going to stay. Kind of sad, I think.
we waste so much time wishing that people in charge would make better or different decisions. Why don't they wise up? Make decisions that would make life better for all of us. It is very clear to me how things should be, why can't they see it? Life would be so much better for all of us.
But changing is hard, maybe even impossible, and changing another person, well, that's just a waste of time--pure folly. It has been said that having expectations for others and wanting them to be more like we would like to see them is just a down payment on future disappointment. This might sound a little down and hopeless, but good news is on the way.
All hope of life being better has to do with growth and change, and any personal progress that we would like to see in ourselves, usually depends on the determination of our own wills to change ourselves.
Maybe you have had some experience trying to stop some behavior only to return again and again to do what you don't want to do. Like St. Paul in the epistle reading today. Maybe you have been trying to lose weight, trying every diet on the market only to finally give up as a hopeless endeavor.
Maybe you have been trying to grow closer to God by being more disciplined in prayer and study, only to feel like nothing changes. No, Instead, our happiness, our fulfillment, our satisfaction, and ultimately our growth in growing closer to Jesus has less to do with taking on more information, or praying more, or reading more scripture. It just might be that we have to do some unlearning, and back off on all our efforts that do not seem to make any progress.
In our gospel lesson today, Jesus is clearly frustrated. He indicates that those around him criticized John the Baptist. They said he is possessed by a demon. Then they criticized Jesus for eating and drinking with the wrong people too often. Jesus then prays aloud to God. He thanks God because the wise and wonderful people of his age do not understand what He is about.
He then says something that has become so famous that everyone knows it and then forgets to apply it to themselves. "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." It sounds wonderful, but do we ever take it seriously and apply it to our lives?
There are a lot of things going on in our country right now that sure gives us a lot of concern. If any of them, or maybe all of them, cause you concern they will create a really heavy burden for you right now.
Do you need a rest? I think it is safe to say we are all weary and heavy-laden. Each of us is dealing with some of the nonsense, or a whole litany of things that are outrageous, or just plain stupid. They will be even a greater burden to us and they are put into practice by our elected officials. In the middle of all of this we hear Jesus invite us to take His yoke upon ourselves. This is an interesting image that most of us modern types might not understand. A yoke is for a donkey or some other beast of burden. It is a rather heavy collar that harnesses two animals together for whatever work that needs to be done. Like pulling a cart or plowing a field. The yoke is a symbol of servitude and very heavy labor. But the yoke that Jesus is offering is easy and light.
What does this mean, "my yoke is easy, and my burden is light"? The world has become very sophisticated in laying heavy burdens upon us. The large companies use very effective psychological advertising on us to encourage us to feel that we must buy their product or buy into some lifestyle in order to be the happiest or most authentic person we can be. The world does not live by the light burdens of Jesus and instead heaps up heavier and heavier burdens.
Jesus does not expect or desire for us to take on more and more work or responsibility to be one of His disciples. His learning is an unlearning, his burdens are an unburdening. His work is a rest. What this looks like in a daily practice is a constant reminder that we are enough, we are sufficient. This is not some mere positive thinking or feel-good humanism. Being sufficient with God is not about our own inherent goodness, even though there may be plenty of good things about us, it is about God's goodness and love and acceptance of us. So, we remind ourselves every day of God's goodness and love.
And then, if we want to be taught by Jesus, we can extend God's radical love to those whom God put in front of us every day. Since God's love is unconditioned, since His yoke is easy and the burden is light, since we are not responsible for the unfaith that we find in others, we do not have to judge them. What would it be to live like that?
What would it be like to love that person who annoys you? What would it be like to love that relative or friend who has interfered in your life and you hope never have to see again? What would it be like to love that politician with whom you not only disagree with but who actively want to pass laws that will hurt you and those you love?
Jesus is not asking you to be foolish and merely accept injustice, but he is inviting us to love. And while Jesus meets us all where we are and accepts us for who we are, he does not let us stay the way that we are. To encounter Jesus is to be transformed. I cannot think of a single encounter Jesus has in Scripture where the other person did not leave changed or challenged.
Jesus is not in the fixing business; He does not want to fix us. He is in the transforming business. His love can transform you and this world we live in. But it is hard. To follow Jesus is work, it is still a yoke, no matter how easy.
To be changed, to be transformed by Jesus means you face your life with love and acceptance. Love and acceptance are the starting point. This is why Jesus describes discipleship to Him as an easy and light burden. Following Jesus does not require good behavior in an attempt to earn His love. Once we understand our status as beloved, we can make the radical turn to do the same: loving others without condition.
May the Holy Spirit empower each of us to go into the world and love as deeply as we are loved by the Lord.