Matthew 11:16–19 (NRSV)
16 “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,
17 ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 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.”
Matthew 11:25–30 (NRSV)
Jesus Thanks His Father
25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Life is difficult. After the brief time in which I have lived, I have found that everything I expected happens in unexpected ways. Things would be so much easier if I could plan every nuance of my life. Of course, life would then be boring. What fun would life be without those unexpected bumps in the road? I really wish the road would be repaved at times because the bumps seem to happen much more than I would care for.
The past few weeks we have discussed the commissioning of the disciples to participate in the ministry of Christ in a different way than before. In the first phase of discipleship they simply listened, watched, followed and asked questions. The second phase Jesus encourages them to take the things that they had observed and learned and apply them in their own life as they go out to carry the message of the kingdom in their community. These disciples believe their rabbi, Jesus, was the anointed one, the one they were waiting for, the one who was to restore the kingdom of David to a dynasty that would have no end. Yet the crowds did not always have the same response. They were called children of Satan, or a pile of manure attracting flies.
We might not think too much of this but it is really a big deal. The anticipated Messiah was the one person everyone wanted to recognize and to be follow. The rabbis for centuries had poured over the scriptures to the point that when King Herod questioned where the Messiah was to be born, they could quickly quote scripture to answer the question. These scribes and Pharisees knew their scripture, they knew what to expect and they were carefully watching and adjusting their lives to welcome this holy guest and provide him with the appropriate honor.
The scribes and Pharisees are portrayed in the gospels as the antagonist of the story. They are always at odds with Jesus, always out to prove something and always shown to be the ones acting as fools. They knew what to expect they had spent the better part of their lives studying everything they could about the Messiah that was to come, just as many of us study and pour over scripture to find all the knowledge we can about the return of Jesus. They had all this vast knowledge of the Messiah, yet when the Messiah came they missed it. They worked against their anointed king because they miss interpreted what the anticipated kingdom was to be. They had this image in their mind, this portrait of perfection, and when life did not work out how they expected they did all they could to defend their tradition.
Even John the Baptist began to question what he was observing. John the Baptist, was a cousin of Jesus. He baptized Jesus and heard the voice of God announce that Jesus was God’s son and in whom He was pleased. John knew Jesus. He knew him from before his birth and many scholars believe that Jesus spent the largest portion of His personal ministry working with John. John and Jesus worked together, John even acknowledged that his personal ministry should diminish as Jesus’ grew. Yet John found himself unexpectedly in prison, waiting for his impending doom. John experienced all this he correctly acknowledges himself as the voice crying in the wilderness preparing the people for the coming of the long-awaited king to be revealed. Yet John’s faith faltered. John once said to his disciples behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, not while he sits in prison he asks, “are you the one or should we be looking for another?”
Why does even the voice crying in the wilderness ask this question? The reality they observe does not fully resemble the expectations they built. Life is hard. Faith can be shaken. And even the most devout disciples can be wrong.
Our first passage today comes after Jesus answers John’s question. The question that every religious person of that day was asking. And Jesus describes to them what He observes. He says, “But what will I compare this generation?” How will I describe this age? What do the people of this nation resemble? Jesus realizes that the expectations are not parallel with the reality of life. The fact that their expectation is skewed is not really a problem because that can always happen. How we respond to the disparity of our expectations to reality reflect our true character.
Jesus likens the people that day to children playing a flute in the marketplace, or a crowd wailing. There is a certain expectation to these activities. A musician plays music with the hopes that it will inspire people to respond. The greatest profit a musician can receive is that those listening to their music will be moved to such a degree that they will abandon themselves to dancing. Likewise, when people wail, when the express utter sorrow, they expect to move those around them to respond in a comparable manner. Both comparisons are about performance. The wailer is a performer, they are there to inspire and to move people to sadness. We get a glimpse of this when Jesus visits Lazarus’ tomb, and the wailer follow Mary out of the house to Jesus. One inspires great unrestrained joy, the other utter sadness. There is an almost scientific expectation to these performances. The first century Jewish people had these performances down to a professional art. The flute players could nearly command their listeners to do their bidding, as could the wailers. Jesus likens the people of his day and of his nation to these professional emotional manipulators. They knew, they anticipated, they observed. They could play one note and they would know the exact response of the audience.
What Jesus is saying is this generation had researched the coming Messiah to such a degree that they had devised a complex and complete picture of their expectations. They had observed to such a degree that they knew exactly what to expect. But what happens when the audience does not dance to the flute? What happens when the expectation does not coincide with reality? They did not adjust their expectation they blamed God of being wrong. Even though John the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus was the anticipated one, even He the forbearer was willing to say, “Nope clearly Jesus is not the right one because he doesn’t fit the picture.” Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.
When John questioned Jesus, when he asked if Jesus was the one or if they should wait for another, Jesus answered by saying, “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 might seem like a strange answer to a yes or no question, but what Jesus was doing we speaking to the skewed expectations of the generation. The people expected the Messiah to be something. The reality was the Messiah was to do something. They wanted him to be the king, but the Son of Man came to restore the broken to life. Even John the Baptizer had skewed expectations to the reality of Jesus. Even the disciples were given reality checks throughout Jesus’ ministry. What Jesus is telling them is all the knowledge in the world is worthless unless that knowledge is put into action. All the expectations of what should be are worthless unless we start putting those things into action. What good is a king of Kings and Lord of Lords if the world is still broken? If Jesus does not restore life to the broken then the anointed Messiah just like David would eventually be betrayed by one of his closest.
We all have expectations and often those expectations are at odds with reality. We all have hopes and sometimes those hopes are misplaced. The reality is that our mission as a church, our mission as disciples and Friends of Jesus is not to force the world into compliance to some expectation we have perceived through careful studies of scripture. Even if that expectation wonderful and something I hope becomes a reality. Our mission is to restore the broken to life, our mission is to bring hope to the hopeless.
This is where the second portion of today’s scripture comes into play. “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.” Life is hard. We all have faced challenges that have nearly broken us. Some of us have faced more than others. We carry these burdens on our backs and they cause us pain. Sometimes this pain begins as spiritual pain but it can manifest itself in actual physical ailments. These burdens come from various places. Expectations we receive from our culture and society. Expectations we have on ourselves. Expectations and responsibilities, we receive from our families. Some of the burdens are a result of hardships we have faced. Maybe our income does not cover our expenses, so we feel as if we have failed. Jesus is telling us, He will give us rest. The sense of the word used here is a ceasing of activity that results in a feeling of refreshing tranquility and an absence of tension or worry. Come to me he says I will give you refreshing tranquility and remove the worry. How many of us long for this? What is keeping us from this type of rest?
Jesus goes on to say, “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 yoke is a harness that connects a team of draft animals together so they can share the burden of work. In most cases a young beast is paired with a mature one so that the one can teach the other. Jesus is telling us that he wants us to bring our burden to him, allow him to share the load and in turn he will teach us how to move forward. The yoke is also a symbolic word that speaks of the teaching of a rabbi. Meaning it is the life style a teacher promotes. Jesus showed us a lifestyle, I have spoken of it often. He made it his custom to worship in the synagogue, he withdrew often to isolated places to pray and commune with His Father, and he ministered to the needs of the community. This is the yoke of Jesus, and when we get into this rhythm of life when we take on this lifestyle we will experience the rest that Jesus promises.
But often we do not have that rest. Often, we bear the burdens of life on our own. We often allow the expectations of life control us instead of letting wisdom freely reign. We worry, we struggle, we fret that maybe we have made some sort of mistake because life is not playing out the way we had hoped. We grasp tighter and attempting to take hold of the wild beast of life to bring it to submission and are again thrown. Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. Stop and walk an alternate path. Come to Christ and gain true rest. Dance to a different flute, and join with Him in His Life of bringing hope and healing to a broken world; loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the Love of Christ with others.