HOMILY FOR FOURTH SUNDAY IN PENTECOST 2014
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
¨There appear be five distinct themes to this morning’s Gospel proclamation. Let’s look at them one at a time.
The first theme is Jesus asking “But to what shall 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!’
The larger public has neither followed John the Baptist, nor Jesus. Aloofness and disdain characterize their attitudes. They disapprove of the company Jesus keeps. Many have witnessed Jesus’ miracles, and yet they are skeptical about whether he is really from God. They have not been moved by the call to repentance made by John, or by the inclusiveness of Jesus who sits and eats and drinks with tax-collectors and sinners. Indeed Jesus loves sitting at table and having a good meal. The kingdom of God is often likened by him to a banquet where all are welcomed and all eat and drink together.
The love Jesus preaches does require repentance and a new start in life, but past sins are not thrown in the sinner’s face. Jesus understands and loves the sinner. He does not feel polluted by their nearness, whereas a Pharisee would. We should not fear them either, if they are keeping company with Jesus.
I wonder whether many of those around us are not also like the children in the marketplaces who neither dance nor mourn, but are indifferent, or feel superior to the call to repent and change their lives, and who are dismayed by the notion of sitting at table with extortionists and prostitutes, and entering into fellowship with them. Still the call to change one’s life needs to be heeded, just as we need to be open to the “otherness” of many around us. Wisdom, Jesus says, is vindicated by his approach.
These words concerning wisdom bring us to a second theme. Jesus says “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent; and revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” Saint Paul echoes these sentiments in First Corinthians Chapter 1; 18-25 when he says that what he preaches is foolishness “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God”. Put another way, the intricacies of Jewish law are not what count, nor the rigidity with which one practices the particulars of the law. Paul also is saying that whom he preaches, Jesus Christ, is accessible to the simple and uneducated, because access does not require an education or a refined understanding of philosophy. The rules of etiquette do not count. What is necessary, Paul says, is the willingness to believe, specifically in Jesus Christ. Paul’s words mirror Jesus’. The point of Jesus’ miracles is that they are an invitation to those who witness them to believe in his message. They do not.
The third concept in this morning’s Gospel is that of Jesus as Son of the Father, as such, his agent on Earth. The Protestant side of the Episcopal/Anglican communion in the light of this and similar Gospel passages is usually not eager to embrace other mediators between humanity and God .“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son choses to reveal him”. In these words of Jesus’ we find the concept of Jesus Christ as the sole mediator between humanity and the Father. We come to the Father through Jesus, and we come through faith in him. We do not come through following the Jewish law with its intricate rules and regulations. This was the yoke that bound the Jewish people to their faith. We do not come to God by following hundreds of rules and regulations.
The fourth concept in this morning’s Gospel is one which all us who remember the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and all of us who love Rite I of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer know. “Come to me all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you”. Our Gospel reading gives it in modern language, but I think we fully understand it in its traditional wording. Life is full of burdens and troubles. Sometimes we feel we are travelling in a desert, or in a wilderness of thorns. Sometimes the burden of our sins, of what we have done, and what we have left undone is almost beyond bearing. At other times the woes we encounter in life weigh us down. Jesus invites us to lay all these things at his feet, to come to him, and to be refreshed. Don’t think that the burden of our woes, of our situation in life will suddenly change, but know that Jesus will refresh us, and encourage us to go on. He is with us; he blesses us, for we have come to him. And our sins are forgiven.
The fifth concept is that the sanctuary, the comfort Jesus offers is a free gift to those who will take it. However something reciprocal is asked for; “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”. We are asked to learn from Jesus, to be gentle and humble in heart. If we take on his yoke, we are binding ourselves to him in obedience to him, but he encourages us to do so, for his yoke is easy and his burden light. Remember that Jesus asks that we love God single-mindedly and wholeheartedly, and that we love our neighbors as ourselves. This is why he terms his yoke “light”. We may have already taken his yoke, or we may decide to do so today, or perhaps tomorrow. Jesus is walking with us. If you have not already joined him, do so. Take his yoke, and find life everlasting.¨ (emphasis added LR)