"‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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.’"
“To what can I compare this generation?” Now there’s a question! How would you describe this current generation? Not necessarily just the children, who can be a bit strange maybe, but the way ordinary people live their lives, the binge culture, the focus on ‘me’, all that fake news thing, gang culture in our cities, those scary stories in the newspapers.
Any parent wants the best for their children, don’t they? I think Fathers get particularly protective about their daughters when it comes to boyfriends. Someone wrote about a fast car which passed them on the road with a young and hairy specimen of manhood driving. On the back of the car was a sticker ‘I’m the one your mother warned you about!’
Most cultures seem to have standards of behaviour which they try and uphold, even if they’re not enshrined in law, and Israel was no different in the days of the Old Testament, although we might think that this particular solution is a little over the top – you’ll find it in Deuteronomy 21:18-21
"If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death."
Crikey, that’s a bit harsh, don’t you think???
Now, hang on though! Let’s go back to our reading from Matthew. What did Jesus say about the people and the things they were saying about him? ‘The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard...’ Were they also inferring that Jesus was simply a rebellious son of Israel leading it astray?
Trouble was, the Jews were looking for revolution. Jesus’ teaching was revolutionary, but in a different way. The Jews wanted a violent overthrow of the Roman rulers. Jesus’ revolution was in the way that people lived their lives. He mixed with people that were considered outcasts, he healed on the Sabbath and was drawing people to himself and God through his words, his love, compassion and life. He was more interested in peace than war, compassion than hate.
That’s why Jesus attracted so much opposition from the Jews, particularly the religious establishment. They couldn’t and wouldn’t accept his words and were prepared to use any excuse to get rid of him. It probably started with ignoring him, putting their fingers in their ears, but when Jesus wouldn’t go away they had to try and persuade the ordinary people that this man was not only mad but mad and dangerous.
What excuses do people us today when challenged by Jesus’ words? They criticise the organisation (the Church) its teaching and its relevance, even if they put up with its charitable works. They write books like ‘The God Delusion’.
Worldly wisdom is that religion has no relevance in the 21st century, and that its followers are deluded. Jesus challenges worldly wisdom, and what he says about the Jews still has meaning today. His challenge then and now is that people should look at him and see the truth of his words in the life he led. True wisdom is proved right by actions, not words, says Jesus.
The Jewish religious leaders strived for wisdom because they believed that the acquisition of wisdom would draw you near to God and knowledge of him. But wisdom to them was all about intensive devotion to studying the Torah (the books of the Law), teasing out the meaning of every phrase and word and applying them to everyday life. To the Jew devotion to the law = wisdom = knowing God. But to the ordinary Jew this was an absolute impossibility, because there was too much to learn and take in, and living it was virtually impossible.
For Jesus, wisdom was different, it was being like a child in his presence, learning by example just as an apprentice – by watching and imitating. It is by being with people that you begin to understand them and know the more intimate details about what makes them tick.
I went to the funeral of a friend a while ago, and during the service an old friend of his gave a beautiful eulogy about this person’s life from their own viewpoint. I learned a lot about him that I didn’t know previously, because I had never had that same depth of friendship, shared so much and been allowed to be such a part of his life.
Jesus had intimate knowledge about his heavenly Father, and through his life and his words, letting people get close to him he enabled others to learn more about him, and more about his heavenly Father. The ‘wise’ were getting nowhere, but ordinary people were discovering God by following Jesus rather than laws, rules and theories. They were discovering God because it’s only through Jesus that we can begin to understand anything about the nature of God.
Know the Son, know the Father. That’s true wisdom!
It’s as true now as it was then. It goes back to thinking about the culture we live in, and how what seems so important in this life can actually be seen as fragile and temporary. Why people are, even if they don’t openly admit it, looking for something other than their current experience of life, and not finding what they’re looking for in the offering the world has – in worldly wisdom.
There’s a lot of unhappy people in the world, struggling people, burdened-down people. The Pharisees talked about carrying the ‘Yoke of the Torah’, the burden of the Jewish Law with its thousands of petty rules. To them this was a great privilege, though to the ordinary person it was a great burden which impinged on their daily lives.
Jesus offered something revolutionary, much easier to carry because it had its source in his love and mercy. The Greek word for ‘easy’ can mean ‘well-fitting’. An ox yoke was fitted to a particular animal. The rough-hewn wood shaped and smoothed so that it was a bit like a bespoke made-to-measure suit! Jesus offers not a lifelong burden but a life made-to-measure, one that suits the person. It may not always be without effort, but Jesus’ yoke is laid upon our shoulders in love.
Many people come to faith because they have been at the lowest point in their lives, weighed down by the burden of living, or by troubles, illness or depression. They have reached the point where they can go no further in their own strength. To them, and indeed to all people, Jesus has some simple words full of wisdom.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Paul in his letter talks of his own struggles, the burden that had been dragging him down until he acknowledged that there was someone, Jesus, who could lift him up and set him from into a new life. It’s a familiar story for so many Christians.
Those words from Matthew’s Gospel are ones the world outside these walls needs to hear and respond to from Jesus – and to know that the gates of the prison are open, and what they have to do is simply walk out.