Scripture: Matthew 11:16-19 & 25-30
This week, for me, has been very busy. It started off with a massive headache, which I have come to believe was induced by stress and a lack of sleep. We faced some stress in the church with our meeting for discussions, which went well. Stress wasn’t the only activity though, I got to see my son play hockey in a hockey camp taught by real professional athletes and saw him score a goal during their scrimmage. Needless to say this week was not filled with an abundance of sleep. Yet it was a good week. Good because I experienced life with my son, my wife, and my church friends.
Relationships and life in general are full of stress. We are beings living in relationships, some would say to be alive is to be in relationship with others. These relationships bring great joy and great stress. But life requires relationships; we cannot live alone even if we go out in the wilderness to live as hermits we are connected to other. This is one of the greatest aspects of Christ, He lived among us.
Just imagine if Jesus was watching my son play hockey, cheering him on just like my wife and I. What if he came to your house to watch a movie or your favorite TV show, or sat with you at break while you complained about work. Imagine if he was standing next to you as you worship in church singing your praises of God, and laughing when the pastor goes off key. Today’s passage speaks volumes about God with the culture or people.
Jesus says, “How can I describe this generation?” To be honest it is like He is speaking about my generation. He goes on to say it is like children in a market place. The market place in this culture is a tricky concept for us today. It is much different from our contemporary super centers. To go to market was a major social event, people in agrarian societies did not have the opportunity to go to the store daily as we do. It was the highlight of their week or month. The trading gave adults the chance to meet and build friendships, and gave children playmates they normally weren’t around. So imagine this picture of a busy loud area, kids laughing and running around, the smells of spices and meats filling the air and bolts of fabric hanging on display and flapping in the breeze. The air is filled with an excited vibration as people laugh, yell, barter, and talk.
Jesus focuses on the children at play. He continues his story saying we played pipes and you didn’t dance we sang and you didn’t morn. It is clear Jesus is using this word picture to illustrate a point. But who is playing the pipe and who dances? Many commentaries liken the dancers to the world and the pipers to the church, but I don’t think that is the whole story. When our kids are at play who is making the noise as they blow into the recorders and who is wanted to join?
The world is hungry for God, for relationship with God, yet they don’t have people to come join them where they are. They are starving for relationships of meaning, but who will dance? My generation had both parents working outside the home if they had two parents at all. If they went to church they were sent to nurseries and didn’t spend time with the family in worship. We live lives where entertainment was a staple and real meaningful friendships were and are rare, because we didn’t see them through out our lives. We crave relationships, which drive us to pursue any and every semblance of intimacy, yet left empty. I was lucky and I did see many great things in my life, but I’m a lucky one, many in my generation are forgotten left to fend for themselves relationally and spoiled materially.
This is why Jesus brings a different dynamic to the traditional understanding of religion. Holiness is often a pulling away from a culture to devote one’s life more fully to God. This is good! Very good! This is the example John the Baptist showed and was honored for. He lived a life contrary to the cultural norms and it attracted attention both positive and negative. He engaged the culture by separation, and this has a vital role to play.
Christ took a different approach, at least publicly. His public ministry was often in the most unlikely places: at parties, weddings, funerals, and feasts. Times and places where you probably wouldn’t expect really deep spiritual teaching. Jesus joined in with the dance and His ministry grew. He met people as they were and started to encourage them to grow. We see this greatly in the life of Matthew because right after his call to become a disciple of Jesus’, Matthew threw a party. Not just a small party Matthew invited all his friends: the tax collectors and we are told all the sinners, and among the crowd was Jesus. Matthew went on to write probably the most known Gospel of Christ, mainly because it is the first Gospel in the New Testament, but Matthew went from a man who lived a life opposed to God to a man fully devoted to Him. Jesus lived and danced with this man.
Our culture plays pipes and is calling for us to dance, to interact. How do we do this is a question I am often asked. This is where my passions and your passions come to play. Our passions give us a circle of influence. We are much more comfortable speaking about things we enjoy and much more likely to converse with people who share and enjoy similar things. They play the pipe we come and dance. How do we engage? By spending time with people just as Jesus spent time with people. Just like the Apostle Paul, and countless other saints of old. We go to where they are and live our lives of devotion in front of them. Dancing for them until they join and dance with us. We engage by being true to ourselves and honest with those we meet. Accepting them as they are and loving them no matter where they start that relationship. We meet the people at art shows, under bridges, in the stores listening to their stories and showing them we care. How they respond is not up to us. They will have to choose for themselves, we are called to be willing to dance.
The world says a lot about Christians and religions in general. They flee the church because we are all “hypocrites”. Which to be honest they have a point because often times we are, yet so are they. They say this because of the dos and the don’ts of a church. They are comfortable with some but there are several we ourselves are wishy washy on. These are the areas they judge; these are the teachings of the church, the yoke, the discipline of the rabbi. We have teaching that is good but we don’t always follow them, the rabbis, the Pharisees also had teachings they gave to their followers. They would dictate these teachings and justify their own lacking because they had ways to twist the teaching. People like boundaries, but they don’t like too many. There were 613 rules making living a devoted life hard, especially when there are several different interpretations of each. These yokes wear us out just like it does on an ox pulling a plow. They are a burden, but Jesus calls out to those of us weakened and stressed out by all the yokes of life and says take mine. What he is really meaning is “let’s trade”. He takes on the dos and the don’ts for us and says do two things love God and Love your neighbor; I’ll take care of the rest. These yokes are what cause our stress they cause the tension in our relationships. I wear at least three different yokes daily. The yoke of my Job and their computer full of policies that I doubt anyone has fully read. The yoke of family, and the real and perceived expectations attached to that. I also carry the yoke of the church. Sometimes the yokes clash: our careers take away from our family or vice versa, leaving little time for church. You wear yokes too, you realize it when you get worn down and burdened and this is where the frustration comes as we try to balance and juggle between them all. Can you see why we are urged not to be unequally yoked? But Christ says give those to me and take mine. Love God Love others and I’ll take care of it. The yoke and stress the pipers and the dance all go together because they all make life. Balance is important. Balance between our relationships of all kinds. We find that balance in Christ. Through Christ we get rest and strength to re-engage, to dance again. Christ went to parties and danced for the pipers, he then withdrew to pray in a quiet place. He demonstrated a cycle of worship and living life with others, a cycle of rest and engagement, refreshment and dance.
As you reflect on your own life with God I encourage you to examine yourself, asking “what areas of my life are keeping me from fully enjoying my relationships?” Are these yokes we need to give to Christ? Let us also be open to how we can express and live Christ’s love with others.