The gospel isn’t meant to be gulped down on Sunday morning, but gnawed on through the week so it really becomes a part of us. You’ve got to work at it, like a dog with a good bone! Here’s the Gospel for this coming Sunday — the Fifth Sunday After Pentecost — with food for thought on the liberation of choosing love over hate and on Jesus’ call to us to “dance anyway.” Gnaw away!
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Jesus said to the crowd, “To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces 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 is possessed.” The Chosen One 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.”…
At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Abba God, Creator of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Abba, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by Abba God; and no one knows the Only Begotten except the Abba God, and no one knows the Abba God except the Only Begotten and anyone to whom the Only Begotten chooses to reveal him.
“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 Backstory – What’s Going On Here?
In Matthew 10, we hear Jesus send out the disciples to be ambassadors and heralds of the new thing that was being revealed and emerging in the world in him … the kin-dom of God. The lectionary skips over 11:1-15, which is Jesus dealing with the difference between the revolution that followers of John the Baptist were expecting — a revolution of violence and force — and the coming of the kin-dom of God, which was about “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.”
In this passage, Jesus addresses the crowd about their lack of receptivity to both his message and the preaching of John the Baptist, who heralded Christ’s coming. But the lectionary robs us of the heart of this message — Jesus’ condemnation of the cities that did not change their ways (read the whole passage here). Why? In his commentary on Matthew, Stanley Hauerwas has some idea:
“Jesus’s pronouncement of judgment on the cities in which he performed deeds of power makes us, contemporary Christians, profoundly uncomfortable. We want a gospel of love that insures when everything is said and done that everyone and everything is going to be okay. But we are not okay. Like the cities of Israel, we have turned our existence as Christians into a status meant to protect us from recognizing the prophets who would point us to Jesus. Of course, we do not like Jesus to pronounce judgment on the cities in which he performed deeds of power, because we do not want to recognize that we too are judged. But the gospel is judgment because otherwise it would not be good news. Only through judgment are we forced to discover forms of life that can free us from our enchantment with sin and death” (Hauerwas, Matthew, p. 115)
Jesus just finished saying that he came not to bring peace but a sword. He is preaching liberation — recovery of sight to the blind … the deaf hear … good news to the poor. He is preaching liberation — laying down heavy burdens and taking up the light yoke of Christ. But there IS a consequence to not embracing the kin-dom … and that consequence is death. Not death from God smiting us from on high but death from us continuing to kill ourselves with our deep addictions to those heavy burdens we refuse to lay down, to everything that keeps us blind and deaf and leprous and poor.
Choosing the kin-dom of God is about choosing love over hate. Compassion over indifference.
The Kin-dom of God that Jesus brings will put us in conflict with the world. It is not peace, but a sword. And it is also our greatest joy, dance and liberation. It is all these things. We choose the Kin-dom at our own peril … the only greater peril is not choosing it.
A few things to chew on:
“Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”
That’s essentially what Jesus is saying when he says “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, `He is possessed.” The Only Begotten came eating and drinking, and they say, `Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'” (the “glutton and drunkard” piece is a reference to Deuteronomy 21:18-21, which describes stubborn and rebellious children who should be stoned to death by the community.) It is the classic no-win situation … which is absolutely wonderful.
Jesus knows that he can’t please the people … which frees him from the temptation of trying. If he fasts they will say he has a demon — and kill him. If he eats they will call him a glutton — and kill him. So don’t worry about pleasing the people, don’t worry about what they will say or do … just be true to loving God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and your neighbor as yourself … to loving the very people who would have you dead.
When Jesus sent the disciples out he bid them be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Here he rejoices that God has “hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” This isn’t an anti-intellectual screed but a reminder that our intellect, like anything else, can become an idol. We can be too smart for our own good. Repeatedly in Matthew, Jesus links receptivity to the Kingdom of God with being like a child — not lacking in maturity, but rather unencumbered by all the heavy burdens we acquire as we go through life. All the ways we have been convinced that we are not created in God’s image and good. All the ways we have been convinced that it is all about us and all up to us. All the ways that we have become afraid to dance when we hear the flute and afraid to mourn when others wail.
The texture of the universe is one where there is no question at all but that good and laughter and justice will prevail.” – Desmond Tutu.
“We played the flute for you and you did not dance.” Following Christ is about bending with the universe toward good and laughter and justice. It is a life of not mindless dancing, but incredibly mindful dancing … of recognizing the joy and beauty of the divine everywhere and realizing that dancing is a necessary response.
Your “homework” this week … is to dance! That’s right. To consider the blessings of life. To look for beauty wherever you are. And then to dance
for joy. Seriously. It might not be something that you’d see in a nightclub, but even if it’s just a little shimmy or moving your arms, every day, do a little dance. Raise your hands in the air. Sing and shout. Give thanks for the gift of life and a God who bids you rest and rejoice in it.
Jesus bids us take his yoke upon him. Yokes are made to distribute the weight of a burden among several creatures so no one creature is carrying it alone.
This week in your journaling, list the things that are weighing you down. Then write about what it would look like to let God help you carry them. What it would look like to help others let you carry them.
Trapped under something heavy
In the great late-80s movie When Harry Met Sally, a pining Harry (Billy Crystal) leaves this message on Sally’s (Meg Ryan’s) answering machine (click here to watch the scene ):
“The fact that you’re not answering leads me to believe you’re either (a) not at home, (b) home but don’t want to talk to me, or (c) home, desperately want to talk to me, but trapped under something heavy. If it’s either (a) or (c), please call me back.”
(c) is such a wonderful description of our life and relationship with God so much of the time. I’m not sure what “not at home” would look like, and there are certainly times when our answer to God is “I’m home but I don’t want to talk with you.” But much of the time, I suspect it’s “I’m here, I desperately want to talk to you … but I’m trapped under something heavy.”
Can you relate to this? Do you feel trapped under something heavy?
Is the “something heavy” your job — either the overarching responsibility or the sheer volume of the work you have to do?
Is the “something heavy” a relationship — one that maybe was once life-giving but that now seems suffocating?
Is it something else? Something that gives you a tightness in your chest and makes you want to turn the alarm off and bury your head under the
pillow first thing in the morning?
We feel trapped under many heavy things, some of our own doing and some not. We are trapped under mortgages and student loans, bursting email inboxes and overstuffed schedules, deteriorating bodies and houses, aging parents and troubled children. We feel trapped under unemployment and homelessness, under parents who have rejected us and crippling discrimination.
And too often our reaction to being trapped is participating in what Parker Palmer calls the “functional atheism” of trying to do it all ourselves. The isolation of not asking for help. Of trying to please everyone and “make it all OK.”
We feel trapped under many heavy things. And in the midst of this, Jesus says “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
Jesus calls and says, “If it’s ‘c’ please call me back.”
It’s not living in naiveté. It’s not living outside of responsibility. It’s realizing that we’re not supposed to do it all ourselves and carry it all
The truth that Jesus offers is that we’re really not trapped under anything heavy … it just feels like we’re trapped, but we really can get out. And we get out by laying the burden down and by picking up instead the yoke of Christ — a yoke that, as it does for oxen, takes a burden unbearable by one and makes it bearable by many.
It’s time to answer the phone.
Check out the rest of Sunday’s readings
The Lectionary Page has all of the readings for this Sunday and every Sunday - click here for this Sunday’s readings.
Collect for Sunday: Pray this throughout the week as you gnaw on this Gospel.
O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Want to read more?
“The Text This Week” is an excellent online resource for anyone who wants to dive more deeply into the scriptures for the week.
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Gnaw on This will be going on hiatus while the Mike is on vacation for the rest of July. But that’s no reason to stop chewing! You can always access the readings for Sunday at here … and www.lectionarypage.net and there are great study resources at textweek.com. And if you’re looking for excellent commentaries on Matthew’s Gospel, check out N.T. Wright’s Matthew for Everyone, and Stanley Hauerwas’ Matthew.