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6th Sunday After Pentecost - July 9, 2023




May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart be wholly acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer.

Please be seated.

So Jesus is standing in front of the crowd, teaching, bringing the good news to the people. And in so doing, I imagine, he uses all the tools of human speech and public discourse that are at his disposal. He chooses where to stand so he can be heard and seen. He uses body language, movement, of course, to keep his audience’s attention. And most importantly—he chooses his words carefully, and he gives those words resonance with tone, inflection, mood.

So when we get to Matthew chapter 11: What is Jesus’s tone here? What is his mood? How would he deliver these lines?

Our lectionary selection deposits us in medias res, in the middle of things. And as per usual, when a passage starts in the middle of ongoing activity, the activity that precedes the passage has bearing on what happens here.

Matthew chapter 11 begins with John the Baptist in prison, and John communicating with Jesus via messengers. John sends his disciples to ask Jesus the burning question on everybody’s mind: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”


Jesus responds by putting the answer to this question, interestingly, in the hands of the disciples: “Go and tell John what you see” (Matthew 11:4)—and what John’s disciples can see for themselves, of course, are the deeds of Christ on earth: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Matthew 11:5).


They can see the results of those miracles, and they have heard the good news, and so Jesus essentially says: you can use that information already at your disposal to answer John’s question all by yourselves, IF YOU ARE WILLING TO ACCEPT WHAT YOU SEE AND HEAR.

The gospel next turns from Jesus’s messages to John to Jesus’s teaching to the crowd, teaching in which he answers another burning question people have: (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Who and what is John the Baptist?” Christ’s answer to the crowd, in a nutshell:


You already know the answer to this question—he is the one who has come to make way for the Son; he is exactly who he has been telling you he is, IF YOU ARE WILLING TO ACCEPT WHAT YOU SEE AND HEAR.

And now we return to our passages for today, in which Jesus is speaking to the assembled crowd and says you are “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’” (Matthew 11:16-17). We—the we here being John and Jesus—we acknowledged your sorrow, but you didn’t want to cry. We brought you a chance for joy, but you didn’t want to dance. Seems that no matter what we do, you’re not happy.

But the listeners in the crowd aren’t the only unhappy ones Jesus refers to.. Look at the pronoun change in the next verse: we move from you to they—we move from those who are hearing now as Jesus is speaking, to those who have heard earlier and not only refused the the message, but also offered up criticism:

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!’” (Matthew 11:19-19).

Seems like it would be awfully difficult to speak these lines without some affect, some distinctly human inflection. Yes, Jesus is the Son of God, but he is also the Son of Man, of Woman born, with all the passions and emotional range that comes with those origins.

So when Jesus says, “John came around, and they didn’t like him--and I show up, and they don’t much like me,” he sounds like a man who is just . . . done. Over all of it. Utterly exasperated. Who among us would find fault with him if he said: WHAT DO YOU PEOPLE WANT?


If you’ve ever been around the 2-4 year old set, you may have encountered what my husband calls “The Banana Must Not Break,” that is, the propensity of the child to be disenchanted with whatever the child is offered, no matter how well prepped the child may have been for said offering.


“You would like a banana? Great. I will give you a banana in two pieces, and you can hold one piece in each hand.” The banana is then presented, and the child falls apart, for THE BANANA MUST NOT BREAK.


So you give the child a whole banana, thinking this will help. It will not, for as soon as the child takes a bite of the banana, the banana is broken—AND THE BANANA MUST NOT BREAK.

Mommy, Daddy, I would like to eat a banana WITHOUT THE BANANA EVER BREAKING. THE BANANA MUST REMAIN THE SAME, AND YET IT CANNOT REMAIN THE SAME IF MY WISH IS TO BE GRANTED. I FIND THIS INESCAPABLE TRUTH TO BE INTOLERABLE.


So when Jesus says, “Whatever we offer you, you fuss and fret and throw a fit,” I feel for him. It feels like he’s dealing with some Banana Must Not Break energy, the chronic childlike dissatisfaction, the perpetual fault-finding, the eternal Goldilocks-ing in the human condition: nothing is ever quite right.

And just at that moment in Matthew, when most of us humans would really be warming to a self-righteous, indignant thesis—some variation of “you people are impossible!”—just in that moment, Jesus changes tracks, dramatically. His tone and focus change, and instead of berating the people, he gives thanks to God. Thanks to God for revealing the truth not to the wise and intelligent—but to infants (Matthew 11:25-26). Dare we say, revealing it to fools, as Father Jared preached a few Sundays back?

And then—and then!!! Despite Christ’s clear awareness of the stubbornness, the willful blindness, the rejection of his teachings by the people, he nonetheless offers:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

I will give you rest. For the exhausted, world-weary, decision-fatigued among us, what a balm. For those among us who spend every waking day wrestling with addiction, depression, anxiety, chronic stress, chronic illness, lack of resources, lack of access, injustice, loss, grief: what a gift. Christ doesn’t offer an instant cure-all or a magical fix, but he does promise a change.

This is the promise of discipleship. The reward of faithfulness. A change.


Change that is possible, of course, ONLY IF WE ARE WILLING TO ACCEPT IT.


If we are willing to be the infants to whom the truth is revealed.

If we are willing to put down our burdens—the burdens—and these things are burdens, y’all, make no mistake about it—of our so-called wisdom and intelligence. Our sophisticated ways. Our moral superiority. Our cynicism, skepticism, and doubt.


If Jesus of Nazareth were to walk into this nave right now—and I mean Jesus of Nazareth, not Jesus Christ, crucified, died, and was buried, rose again on the third day, the Jesus Christ with 2000 years of church history, doctrine, theology, liturgy, text, public discourse backing him up. No. I mean Jesus of Nazareth--


What reception would He find? What will we greet Him with?


Fault-finding? Disbelief? Criticism? The “how dare you”s of righteousness and indignation?


My hope? My hope is for the courage and humility to say, Jesus of Nazareth, my burden is heavy, and I’m ready to put it down.


Amen.




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