"His Yoke is easy"
Matthew 11: 16-19. 25 – end.
"Jesus said ‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another, 17 “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.”
18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.
25 At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.28 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’"
Teachers have a huge influence on their pupils. It is not always the teacher with the best knowledge that we remember but the ones that encouraged us and spurred us on, the ones who believed in us, even when we did not have much belief in ourselves. We might not remember a thing that good teachers taught us but we will remember them with fondness because people are more important than words. Qualities like kindness and generosity are always more enduring than rules and integrity is far more infectious than dogma, that which is laid down by an authority as absolute truth.
In Verse 29 of our Gospel reading Jesus offers himself as a teacher: saying ‘learn from me’. Up to this point in his ministry he had been rejected by the religious leaders those thought to be the wise in society. The Greek word which has been translated “wise” means “the learned, the well-educated, the scholarly, the well informed and quick to learn.” In Israel that was the scribes and Pharisees, they were quick and sharp, but they had no insight into spiritual truth. When John the Baptist and Jesus preached they had not got the foggiest idea of what the gospel was all about. Matthew says the gospel is hidden from them. Why?
It is not that God has anything against intelligence. He doesn't. It is not that God has anything against learning. He doesn't. It is not that God had anything against these particular people hearing the good news. He didn't. The problem is that smart, intellectual people often think that they already know the answers and they refuse to keep an open mind to the truth. That is exactly what the scribes and Pharisees did, and his message found no place in their hearts. Becoming experts in the Law had prevented them from recognising God’s Messiah and the coming of his Kingdom. The Law had become a heavy burdensome yoke that they carried around all day long.
Just the opposite had happened. Jesus found a ready audience among the people often considered social outcasts – tax collectors and sinners and those who didn’t keep to the strict letter of the Law. These were the people who welcomed Jesus and received his message and the hope he brought them.
Unfortunately the experts, Scribes and the Pharisees, the ‘wise’ that Jesus referred to, were so preoccupied with keeping the externals of the Law that they had largely lost sight of its purpose, to lead people to God. They were no longer open to hearing the word of God, because they did not need it.
We can be glad we don’t have to be the smartest person in Martham Benefice or where you are reading this today but we are called to have humble pure hearts. That means we cannot boast to God about our goodness. It would be like trying to impress officials at NASA with a paper airplane, or boast about our painting skills in the presence of Picasso. We certainly can’t impress God by our successes either. As the hymn writer puts it so well.
Still to the lowly soul
He doeth himself impart
And for his dwelling and his throne,
Chooseth the pure in heart.
Jesus said ‘no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’
This statement that Jesus made is central to the Christian faith. In other words Jesus is saying ‘ if you want to see what God is like, if you want to see the mind of God, the heart of God, the nature of God, if you want to see God's attitude to mankind – look at me’ In Jesus we see what God is like.
The scariest thing of all this morning is the realisation that if we are Christians, that is believing in Jesus, letting him live out his life through us, we should be saying – ‘if you want to know what Jesus is like look at me.’
Jesus offered a different "yoke", a simpler one to that of the religious leaders. We do not have to worry about hundreds of laws, or keeping the minutiae of rules and regulations. Jesus simply offers himself as the model to follow. He alone is the way to God. Follow him and we will find God. Like a good teacher, the lasting impression he makes resides more in who he is, than anything he says. He asks us to be like him, to be gentle and to acknowledge our need for God. It is only when, like the tax collectors and sinners, we are open to the words of God, only when we admit our dependence on God, that we are able to receive Gods mercy. And, like them, we experience God's love and mercy, not by mindless obedience, but by meeting a person: Jesus, God's own Son, face to face.
Jesus says that his burden is light. We can be burdened with all kinds of things: the list could be endless in today’s society, made even more burdensome by the current ‘lockdown’ situation of Covid 19 and the gradual return to a different kind of living. Add to that guilt, low self-esteem, unattainable goals and we can become overwhelmed by burdens.
Jesus' yoke is easy. It is well fitting, tailor-made to the individual, because the task he sets us is simple - be yourself! Be the person God wants you to be, using Jesus as your teacher. Be gentle, with yourself and others. Be humble, acknowledge your need for God, don't assume you have to do it all by yourself. Resist becoming overburdened by any unreasonable demands. Resist any "system" or "rule book". Simply get to know Jesus, the person. Learn from him and you will find rest and peace in your soul.