Ironic Jesus

Sunday’s Gospel lesson is a doozy, and reading it in context doesn’t seem to help.  After sending his Apostles out with the instructions we’ve heard over the past three weeks, Jesus returned to his own ministry of healing and preaching.  Matthew doesn’t reiterate Jesus’ message, but we know that on this missionary journey, like all the others, he has be proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come near.  This is the same message that John the Baptist preached during his ministry at the Jordan (see Mt 3).  Interestingly, it is during this time that John, now in prison, sends his disciples to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

It is in response to this question from John the Baptist that Jesus engages in the teaching we will hear on Sunday.  The seemingly random aside about children in the marketplace, the woes to unrepentant cities that the lectionary skips, and even this prayer to the Father about thing hidden from the wise, are all a result of John’s somewhat surprising questioning of Jesus’ Messiahship.  But what really strange about all of this is how Jesus wraps it all up by saying, ““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.”

crown-thorns2

That’s a serious eye roll, Ironic Jesus!

Is Jesus being ironic here?  After a chapter of pretty difficult apocalyptic teaching, he’s going to end with “my yoke is easy and my burden is light”?  Has he not heard himself for the last five minutes?  He has literally just condemned Bethsaida and Capernaum, the home towns of several of his disciples, to a fate worse than Sodom for their unbelief.  What is easy about this faith if John the Baptist can’t handle it?  How light can the burden possibly be if these towns filled with faithful Jews can’t carry his teaching?

Preachers, and by that I mean, I tend to isolate this final verse from the rest of the lesson and talk about how a Rabbi’s yoke was his teaching, and how Jesus’ commandments to love God and love neighbor would seem downright easy compared to the teaching of the Pharisees, but in context, what Jesus is suggesting is downright heavy.  That is, until we remember that the task of the disciple is not to accomplish faith on our own, but rather to allow Jesus to carry it for us.  John was struggling.  In prison for his teaching and looking at the horizon of his own demise, he wanted to be sure that he had done the right thing.  His faith faltered, if only for a moment, and he looked for reassurance.  What he got was the word that being in prison was exactly where he was supposed to be, and that while his burden seemed heavy, God was there to help lighten the load.  His death would not be in vain.  His faith, unstable as it might have been at the time, would not fail.  The burden of following Jesus, even to death, is light because we are not invited to carry it alone.

Advertisements

This Yoke Ain’t Easy

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you know that when I was ordained, I took a vow to “be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them” (BCP, 526).  I take this vow very seriously, and though I’ve been known to skirt a rubric every once in a while, I’m not apt to do so without careful theological reflection.  That being said, I really want to invoke the opinion of the Dean of the School of Theology at Sewanee who says that the Book of Common Prayer ends on page 808 and consider the rubrics concerning the Lectionary “back matter.”  I’m especially interested in the penultimate line on page 888 which reads, “Any Reading may be lengthened at discretion.”  Oh how I wish that it said “Any Reading may be shortened or lengthened at discretion.”  I’d cut verses 16-19 and 25-27 from this Sunday’s Gospel lesson.

In the final part of Sunday’s lesson, Jesus promises that his yoke is easy and his burden is light, but I’m not sure that can be true given his prayer to the Father, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent” and the bit about children making fun of each other in the market place.  The latter is so culturally dependent as to be impossible to not misunderstand and the former sounds so very closed minded and Gnostic.  Thankfully, I’m not left to my own devices and by virtue of my ordination vows, I’m required to deal with the tough stuff from Jesus and not just preach fluff.

I was sharing all this with my Rector who chuckled and said, “what if God is hiding the Kingdom so we’re intentional about looking for it?”  This is, I think, a great word for anyone who would take seriously the task of preaching the Gospel this week.  Are we being intentional about seeking out the kingdom – sifting through and learning from the hard stuff as well?  Or, are have we settled into a yoke that’s too easy and a burden too light?