6 Pentecost, Proper 9 – July 9, 2023
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

         Jesus describes a generation that cannot recognize the truth that is right front of them. They thought that John the Baptist was a demon and considered Jesus to be “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Interestingly, they describe Jesus by the company he keeps.  Jesus, on the other hand, compares them to children. They are oblivious, like children who are preoccupied with playing games. The Messiah, the one they have been waiting for, is right in front of them. Yet, they failed to see beyond the superficial appearances of the prophet and the Son of Man.

Perception is a fascinating thing. The definition of perception is the state of being, or process of becoming aware of something through the senses. It is a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression or picture. It’s intuitive understanding and insight.

In our gospel reading for today, Jesus talks about how we have perceived John the Baptist and Jesus, himself. The crowds appear ready to judge only on the basis of their own perceptions of what a prophet should be, and whose company these figures should keep. John played the part of societal misfit, a throwback prophet whom many supposed was demon-possessed. Jesus, on the other hand, associated himself with sinners and tax collectors. Therefore, the crowds concluded, he must be “a glutton and a drunkard”. That people are so quick to dismiss a person’s merits on the basis of their perceived “affiliations” is apparently nothing new. Oh, it is absolutely not new.

Today’s scripture passages remind us precisely of our inability to box Jesus in. Let’s face it. We want God to match our picture, our perception of who we think God should be. Which is probably what’s so appealing about our own pictures of God. They don’t threaten us, don’t expect change from us, don’t ask us to do all that much, and don’t do much more than affirm us. And affirmation is great, even necessary at times. But it doesn’t save.

And so God comes along – first in John, then even more fully in Jesus – in part to disrupt our pictures of God, our perceptions, to shake our hands loose from holding those pictures (which all too often can harden into idols) too tightly. Jesus is not neatly contained in ways that fit our own personal expectations and ideals.

Think about your own life. How many times have you been misunderstood? Or characterized in ways that do not truly describe who you are? How many times do we interrupt someone while they’re speaking because we have already decided we know what they’re going to say? How frustrating is it for someone to assume they know something about us based on where you grew up or where you went to school, your gender identity or the color of your skin, or any number of factors that simply do not capture the complexity of who you really are.  It is disappointing and disheartening when someone does not see you for who you really are. In order to know someone, you probably need to spend time with them and learn who they are, listen and hear them. Jesus spent time with the likes of tax collectors and prostitutes and lepers and others considered outcasts, those on the margins of society.

Jesus goes on in our scripture for today to thank God for revealing things to infants, not to the wise and intelligent, and he offers rest for our souls.  Nadia Bolz-Weber, writes in her book Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People:

“I’ve never fully understood how Christianity became quite so tame and respectable, given its origins among drunkards, prostitutes, and tax collectors… He spent his time with people for whom life was not easy. And there, amid those who were suffering, he was the embodiment of perfect love.”

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”

“Come to me,” Jesus says, “take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Do you notice all the first-person pronouns? It means we are not doing this work alone. Far from it. This is Christ’s church, not ours.

We are yoked to Jesus, whose yoke is kind, good, useful (which, by the way, are better translations than “easy”). Yes, it is still a symbol of burden, oppression, and hardship. But we can’t forget who is pulling the burden with us, with his head through the other oxbow.

Jesus doesn’t simply call our pictures and expectations into question, but also gives us another picture. God is the one who bears our burdens. God is the one who shows up in our need. God is the one who comes along side of us. Nothing demonstrates this more than the cross – God’s willingness to embrace all of our life, even to the point of death, in Jesus, to demonstrate God’s profound love and commitment, love and commitment that will not be deterred…by anything.

With that truth in mind, I think this text says more than: you are not alone in your suffering. Although that is also true about this passage, I think there is a promise that the load really will feel lighter. True, you are not alone. And therefore, whatever burden you bear, you do not bear it alone.

Jesus says it very clearly – if you are tired, come here; if you are burdened then let me take it from you; I will hold you and love you.   Amen.