The collect and readings for the Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9A, may be found here. The appointed gospel is Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30. I have, however, included the omitted verses, 20-24.
“But to what will I compare this generation? It is 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.’ For 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!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.”
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; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All 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. “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.”
“Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! And you Capernaum, the town where I made my home. Don’t think you’re so great. Sodom will be better off than you.” These are the towns where Jesus spent most of his ministry, the towns where he did most of his mighty works. They know Jesus well and he knows them, too well perhaps. He knows their unbelief, their unwillingness to change, their refusal to yoke themselves to him and his gospel.
Matthew calls this Jesus’ reproach of the cities. That’s a nice way of saying Jesus is really ticked off and he’s telling them how it is. The lectionary omits this little section. We don’t much like reproach. We don’t like it in our lives and we don’t like it in our scriptures. Most would rather skip quickly to the good part, that part about the humble and gentle Jesus who we think is going to make life easy. But we need to hear these words of reproach. They are important words so I put them back in. Reproach in Jesus is not rejection. It is the other side of care and concern.
Jesus continues. “You are like a bunch of spoiled kids unhappy with whatever is offered you. You want it your way or no way. John the Baptist came neither eating nor drinking and you said he was a nut, possessed by craziness. I come eating and drinking and you call me a glutton and a drunkard, a guy who hangs out with the wrong kind of people.”
I wonder what Jesus would say to us today as individuals, as a parish, as a nation. Are we different from Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum? How have we responded to Christ and his gospel?
Reflecting on this question raises a deeper and more fundamental question. To what or whom are we yoked? To what or whom do we give ourselves? What or who takes priority in our lives, orienting how we live and relate to others, how we make decisions? We all harness our lives to something: another person, work, family, success, reputation, our country, our political party. Sometimes our yokes are more interior like fear, anxiety, anger, particular beliefs and opinions, the losses and tragedies of our lives. Regardless, they are the relationships and attachments that we depend on for meaning and, for better or worse, they give us our life’s direction. We’ve all got them and usually more than one.
What yokes do you wear? Which one is primary? We know the right answer. Jesus. But is that really how we live? Is it reflected by our deeds and in our relationships? Apparently, it was not for Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum.
If we are going to call ourselves Christians we must fully yoke ourselves to Christ. He must be the primary and determining yoke. We cannot simply come to church, hear the gospel, say our prayers, and then go to lunch. The gospel of Christ demands a response. That’s why Jesus is so harsh with his words. The people have seen God among them, they have witnessed the signs. Jesus has cleansed their lepers, healed their sick, calmed the sea, cast out their demons, forgiven their sins, preached and taught in their cities. Still they reject Jesus and, before him, John the Baptist.
Sometimes we are like those little kids in the marketplace, unhappy with whatever is offered us. We want the gospel to fit our beliefs, desires, and agendas rather than shaping our beliefs, desires, and agendas to fit the gospel. That simply is not an option for Jesus. We can either dance, celebrating and giving thanks for the coming of God among us in Jesus, or we can mourn our sins, the brokenness of our lives, and the pain of the world. But we must respond. We must choose one or the other. Either one is to wear the yoke of Christ. Both will reorient our lives and priorities.
What does that mean for us? It means we take seriously our life of discipleship. Our prayer is more about intimacy with God than getting what we want. We work for justice and the dignity of every human being. We care for the poor, feed the hungry, and defend the oppressed. We love our enemies. We offer forgiveness before it is asked for. Our faithfulness should be evident by how we live and speak. We live day by day praising God and giving thanks for his gifts and blessings. We let go of anger. We don’t live in fear and we trust that daily bread will be provided.
To be yoked to anything or anyone other than Christ will only leave us weary and burdened. This is a spiritual condition, a disease of the soul, as much or maybe even more than it is a physical one. Our lives will be frenzied and fragmented. We end up comparing, competing, and judging ourselves and each other. We act as one person in one situation and another person in a different situation. There is no internal integrity. The reserves run dry and we live exhausted with nothing of depth or substance to offer. Soon relationships become superficial and utilitarian.
Are we weary? Burdened? If so, maybe this means we are not fully wearing the yoke of Christ. Too often we treat our weariness and medicate our burdens with retail therapy, addictions, a new toy, a vacation, a nap, a day off, busyness and perfectionism. Interior voids cannot be filled by exterior things. More often than not we are just as weary and just as burdened afterwards as we were before. These are not the antidote to our exhaustion. The antidote to our exhaustion begins with wholeheartedness. That wholeheartedness is only found in sharing the yoke of Christ, the heart of God and the heart of humanity beating as one.
Jesus isn’t upset because the cities misbehaved. His heart is breaking because they have chosen a life less than what they were created for, a life less than what God is offering. This is why his words of reproach soon become words of invitation, love, care, and concern. “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.”
You know how children get so exhausted they just act bad? How they can’t hold their eyes open but refuse to lay down and rest? You also know, I’m sure, that it’s not just children. It happens at every age and in every generation. Jesus is like a loving parent looking at his children. “Oh Chorazin! Oh Bethsaida! And you Capernaum. You are like exhausted children, so tired you do not know which end is up, so weary and burdened you misbehave. It doesn’t have to be like this. Take my yoke upon you.”
To take on the yoke of Jesus is to take on his life. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me,” he says. “Let you heart love like mine. Let your mind be filled with the same concerns as mine. Let your feet walk in step with mine. Let your hands touch the world like mine. Let your eyes see the Father like mine. Live and move in tandem with me, as one, and you will find rest for your soul.”