Scripture: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
It seems as if every group of people demands that we join their cause, if your name gets on a call list at any time, daily someone is calling your phone asking for your support. These are the reasons things like voice mail and caller ID were invented. But this goes much deeper than annoying phone calls. Our culture divides over causes; there is the environmental cause, the wage cause, the religious cause, and the antireligious cause. We could spend the entire rest of the day speaking about the various activist groups trying to attract our attention. The worst thing about these various groups is you are either for them or against them, no in between, and no other options in their minds, two answers that’s it; right or left, black or white. The problem with this type of worldview is that no one fits in the boxes completely. I have views that agree with many groups, but only to a small degree if I admit this openly then a group I agree with to a greater degree labels me as being a turncoat wishing for the demise of the culture.
There seems to always be extremes in life. Even among the ancient cultures there were extremes and varying degrees within those extremes. Each activist group seeking to convince the masses that they are right, the Sadducees are bent on keeping the status quo in order only keep the temple going, the Pharisees are the progressive branch seeking out the new ideas providing for the education of the masses but to be included you must follow the teachings of their rabbis. Then there are the extreme views just outside the two major sides, there are some that demand total ritual purity, and others that seek to bring about independence from the empire.
Jesus has been sending his disciples out into the community, but there are other groups that are also actively teaching in the same areas. The most interesting thing is as Jesus is sending them out the ministry of His cousin John the Baptist is still active. John himself is imprisoned but his disciples are able to keep in contact with him. They know the history of John and Jesus; they know that John and Jesus have very different approaches.
When someone has a different method or views the first thing we tend to do is question them. John knew that Jesus was the messiah; he knew this before he was born; yet Jesus did not exactly fit the mold of messiah. He sends his disciples to ask Jesus a couple of questions: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
This is quite literally the same question that runs through our minds at various points in time. Is this the right way or is there another way? Jesus answers this question, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
This is an odd answer to a simple yes or no question, but John understood completely what was being said. The kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of the world. If you were to look through all the laws and the prophets there is a common theme throughout, that we should live our lives together, worshiping the one true God and helping those in need. Love God and Love your neighbor. How we do this may differ in some ways, but this central theme must be present if the kingdom is to be spread.
Then Jesus says, “But what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you and you did not dance; we wailed and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
Odd words. It shows how easily people like to spin words around people that they may have a disagreement with. Both Jesus and John ministered in ways that the major groups disagreed with, so they begin to spin and use things against them. They begin to put words into their mouths and also to defame the character of their opponent. Obviously we have come a long ways from the first century because mud slinging is not something we do today, right? John refused to conform to the culture, he lived a life completely rejecting the social norms, eating locus and honey, and wearing clothing made not out of wool but camel’s hair. He has a demon they said. The culture rejected him because his lifestyle showed them that maybe their lives were not as righteous as they should be. In a culture that claimed wealth as being blessing and poverty as being a curse from God, for a man to reject all wealth screams out that they have been teaching and following lies. John took a different road than the rest of the culture; he chose the life of poverty.
But when Jesus took a different approach, one that was exactly opposite of John’s you would think that they would respond differently. But no, Jesus was often the life of the party; he spoke and spent time with the people that were seen as beneath the righteous. By spending time with them the self righteous of society began to speak out. John refused to associate and Jesus made it a point to associate. Either way the cultural majority damned them.
“Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” Jesus speaks almost as if wisdom is a personality; one that we could have a conversation with, that wisdom is living and breathing, almost as if wisdom has a name. Think about that for a moment. Ask yourself what wisdom is? When I look this word up in my dictionary it says that wisdom is the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment. Wisdom is knowledge in action, lived out among the people. Wisdom has a purpose, to be used and passed on; it is relational, where knowledge is abstract and personal.
Jesus and John both were working toward the same goal, using different methods, both were building relationships based on wisdom. I say this because both saw to the heart of the Gospel and taught it. The heart of the Gospel is not only salvation or freedom from the penalty of sin, but it is the restoration of all of creation. That this restoration is available to all people if they repent, or turn from their current path and begin walking toward God. Both spoke these things in their own ways one through the ascetic life the other through mercy.
If they both were working toward the same goal why were they both rejected? They challenged the seats of power and the status quo. John spoke out about excess saying, “whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” He spoke out against exploitation saying, “collect no more than the amount prescribed for you…do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” He also spoke out against self-righteousness saying, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”
These words spoke to every aspect of humanity, rich or poor, those with power and those without, to each saying that the Kingdom of God is not like this world. The world uses power and position, heritage and education to exploit those that do not have those things. This is not the ways of God, this is not the divine wisdom living through the people claiming to possess knowledge of God, but it is instead a life lived to idols.
Jesus goes on to say that he thanks the Father because he has hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Let us consider this for a moment. How do children react to other children? They do not care what color of skin they have or who their parents are, if there is another child in the room they are drawn to that child. If an adult smiles at an infant, the child can seemingly see deep into the very soul of a person and judge the genuineness of the smile and respond accordingly. Children respond to the world around them honestly if they are hungry they let you know, and have faith that you will provide. If they do not know you they will shy away until they observe you for a while, and then they will fully engage. Just this week I was following Albert as he was crawling around the grass at his cousin’s baseball game, and he met another child who was playing with a bat and ball. At first this other child was suspicious of Albert but in a matter of seconds they began to share balls and the older child was talking to Albert explaining where he got his ball and how he used the bat. It was a beautiful thing. In seconds a relationship developed. Adults seem to become very twisted, always assuming that someone is trying to cheat them out of something.
Children understand something that adults just don’t get. Yes children can be mean and selfish, but they can also be very generous. They are often very quick to share their food with others even before we teach them that sharing is good. But as we grow prejudices and suspicion develop, because that is the world we live in. We teach our children to hate, we teach them to pick on those that are different than ourselves. We teach our children to be who we are. And that is frightening. Are we teaching our children to live in the kingdom of God or man?
This is a very hard thing to consider. Jesus finishes this passage by saying, “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.” The kingdom of the world and the yoke of the self-righteous are very similar, it is focused mainly on our own abilities. Let us consider a yoke for a moment. A yoke is the harness placed on an animal so that they will be able to pull a plow or a wagon. Most yokes were constructed in pairs so that there would be a team of animals working together to accomplish the task. At first the younger animal would be paired with a more mature animal so that they could learn. Religious teachings of the rabbis were also called yokes so when Jesus says that his yoke is easy he is saying that his teachings are easy. He says come to me all you that are weary, so that he can pair you up and teach you to share the burdens of life. Often we are encouraged to take things on our own, this is nearly a core belief in our American culture of individualism. But that is not how we were created to be; we need support of others to keep us going. We need teams not individuals; we need the mature to team up with the immature to walk with them as they accomplish the task that God has given us. This is why the church is important in this world; it is here in this meetinghouse that we come together to help one another carry the loads life has given us.
When we come together, as unique individuals working together where we see the kingdom expand. We each have different ideas and are concerned about various things. Our world seeks to use these issues to divide us; this only weakens our effectiveness, like a team of oxen trying to pull a cart in two different directions. It is in the coming together, seeking divine wisdom and sharing the burden that we can begin to move forward. The world will say many things about us, we will say many things about each other, but if we are here together let us remember that we are hear for the same reasons. We are each weary and life has given us burdens that are hard to bear. We each are mature in some areas and need help in others. And we each can learn and become stronger through the relationships we have with each other. We are called to continue the ministry of Jesus, the ministry of restoration of the relationship between God and mankind, and to bring healing and rest to mankind. We have two simple laws, love God and love man. This is the core value of the Gospel and the kingdom. If we do these two things in all we do we will see God do mighty things through this community? But it begins when we turn from our past life and embrace a life with God.
As we enter into a time of centered prayer and open worship, let us consider how the world is trying to divide us. How are we reacting to these things? Are we responding in ways that bring rest and healing to weary souls or are we inflicting further wounds? As we answer these questions let us then let the wisdom of God fill us as we consider how we can better respond to our world in Love for God and Love for man.