Proper 9, Year A, RCL, Track 2
Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
We are fickle people who don’t really know what we want, Jesus says, like the children in the marketplace. We set expectations and when they are met we want something different. John the Baptist, for example, was not extravagant. He did not eat or drink in lavish ways. If we remember he ate wild honey and locust. He wore very modest clothing. His father was a priest and he was being raised as a priest. The people he would have associated with were likely honorable. Yet the leader and authorities, those of influence, didn’t listen to him. According to Jesus today, they said he was possessed by a demon. Jesus comes, with a similar message, but he eats; he drinks; he turns water into wine; he associates with the “wrong” kind of people and the authorities call him a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors, and sinners. What do they want; what do we want when we meet God in our life?
I suspect the people want a prophet or a messiah that is more like them; who speaks with them, accepts them, and does not ask them to change? Someone who always says yes and never says no.
When we look at the prophets we find that they are met with resistance and skepticism. The people who are comfortable in life didn’t listen to them because the prophets were often critical of how they maintain their comfortable circumstances or wielded their power. It seems that the mainstream people, those who are not marginalized, feel threatened by the prophets. This is why they often have the prophets killed. Instead of listening to the truth, instead of listening to God, they silence the prophets so they can continue life as usual, in comfort.
This concern we have for ourselves over others is largely of what Paul is speaking to the Romans. We, as Christians, have the prophets. We have Christ’s witness and we know what God calls us to do. But it’s not that easy. “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” I believe that each of us here today wants to follow the Lord. We want to do what is right in His sight. Yet we fail. Not every time, but often enough. We know when we are not treating someone with the love and kindness that Jesus has shown us.
Treating others with love and respect is not something that can be regulated. You can create laws against stealing but theft will still happen. You can create laws against murder, but people will still get killed. You can even have laws regarding how to love God and how to love your neighbor as yourself but this doesn’t mean people will do either of these.
When Paul is speaking of being “captives to the law” he is referring to the Torah which contains over 600 commandments. And for Paul, following these 600 laws is an unbearable burden. But these laws can be condensed in a way that brings out their meaning.
In an exchange between Jesus and a young lawyer, later in Matthew, we hear the lawyer ask, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” [Jesus] said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”(1)
Summarizing the Law in this way isn’t meant to negate the Law but to allow us to live more freely within the Law. Jesus points this out to some Pharisees when they caught him healing a man on the Sabbath. The Pharisees claimed that Jesus broke the Law of the Sabbath by doing work. But Jesus said putting the person’s life first was more important.
Sometimes, when there are many laws regarding a common goal they compete with one another and it can become hard to know what you should do in a given situation. You can be paralyzed into doing nothing instead of doing what is good. Paul goes on with his bigger point to say that we will always fall into sin no matter how good we try to be. He says it is the conflict between our spiritual being that wants to follow God and knows what is good versus the flesh that is held under sin and prevents us from doing what we know is right. This brings us back to our fickle nature.
Before Jesus invites us to take on his yoke he likens us to children. Then he specifically points to John the Baptist. And we know John’s message is. It is to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”(2) Jesus warns us, those who don’t repent, that it will be like the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum in the Day of Judgment. He says woesome things will happen because they know of his deeds but they did not repent. Jesus then invites us to take his yoke and learn from him. Learning isn’t instantaneous, it takes time like plowing a field, yet it seems to begin with repentance.
With repentance, we start anew as we begin to take on the yoke of Christ. In the past, I have often thought of this yoke as being for a single animal. We put on this yoke that holds a lighter load than the load we had before. But recently I have realized that this yoke is made for two. We can now put on a yoke in which Christ is at our side. He has already taken on much of the work without us. He carried his cross, taken away the sin of the world. And now the work ahead is much lighter. When we are yoked together we have to work together; else even the simplest of tasks become even harder.
When two or more animals are yoked together one is always the lead. Christ invites us and we choose to accept this yoke. But in accepting it we know that we are yoked to someone whom we love and trust. When we put on the yoke of Christ we accept him as our leader. For us, this is where freedom comes in. He leads and we follow. This doesn’t mean that life is always easy. We all have rough patches and missteps and we may even try to do it our way instead of following the Lord. But like plowing a field, life is a journey. Christ is there right next to us, asking us to listen to him and learn from him as he continues to bear our sins and offer us forgiveness even when we do not do what is good for us or we act like children in the marketplace.
1) Matthew 22:35-40
2) Matthew 3:2