Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 (CEB): “To what will I compare this generation? It is like a child sitting in the marketplaces calling out to others, ‘We played the flute for you and you didn’t dance. We sang a funeral song and you didn’t mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ Yet the Human One came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved to be right by her works”...
At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you’ve hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have shown them to babies. Indeed, Father, this brings you happiness.
“My Father has handed all things over to me. No one knows the Son except the Father. And nobody knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wants to reveal him.
“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”
It always bothers me when whom ever decides on the lectionary readings leaves out sections of Scripture. In this reading, four verses were left out. Here they are:
Matthew 11.20-24 (CEB): Then he began to scold the cities where he had done his greatest miracles because they didn’t change their hearts and lives. ‘How terrible it will be for you, Chorazin! How terrible it will be for you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles done among you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have changed their hearts and lives and put on funeral clothes and ashes a long time ago. But I say to you that Tyre and Sidon will be better off on Judgment Day than you. And you, Capernaum, will you be honored by being raised up to heaven? No, you will be thrown down to the place of the dead. After all, if the miracles that were done among you had been done in Sodom, it would still be here today. But I say to you that it will be better for the land of Sodom on the Judgment Day than it will be for you.’
These verses are necessary for what came before them and the verses after them. They are the important piece, the key to the whole passage. Without them, the context doesn’t really make sense. Without them, it seems that God is just being mean - that there is no reason for God’s justice. Keep them in, and the other passages fall into place.
The whole context has to do with a way of life, an attitude, a way of being. The religious people of Christ’s day were seeing themselves as superior to those around them. They seemed to be a very judgmental group of people. No matter what they (think they) perceived, those being judged were always on the outside. Look in the first passage and we see this clearly. If someone came from an aesthetic lifestyle, the judgment was they must be demon possessed. If someone came living life to the full, the judgment against her was she must be a ‘glutton and a drunk’! So, you’re damned if you do or damned if you don’t. With that type of worldview, everyone who isn’t part of that worldview is in the wrong. Always. ‘We are the only ones who are right.’ Sound familiar?
For a very long time, i was in that group. I had that worldview; that way of seeing. But it wasn’t just me. Pretty much all of Western Christianity sees itself in that way. I would go one step further and say that almost all of institutional religions see themselves in that way. And it’s not just religions. This way of seeing encompasses politics, marketing, sports, schools, etc. All around us we are being bombarded with this worldview. Either we are the ones on the outside - “You need a new phone! The one you have now is inferior. You need to loose weight! You’re too thin. You need a new job! They aren’t paying you enough. You need to change political parties! You Democrats are what’s wrong with this country! You Republicans are what’s wrong with this country! Heck, it’s your country that’s the problem!”
Or, we’re the ones in the inside - “Look, I just got the latest phone! I just bought a 3D 120” wide screen LED TV! I have a four doctorates and three masters degrees. Which obviously means that I’m smarter than you people. Our way of doing government is the only way! Our values and the best values!”
It’s always me versus you - us verses them. Obviously, we are right because that is where we are! If they were right, we would be over there with them. How petty. How childish. It sounds more like an elementary school playground than mature adults.
But notice the verses that were left out. Jesus stated that the Others are better off than we are! That if they had been given the opportunities and graces that we have been given, they would have changed the world. We have squandered our callings. We have failed in our vocations. We have put our lamps under the bucket. We have tied up and twisted the Love of God into a bunch of rules and regulations. I can just hear Jesus say, ‘How terrible it will be for you...hypocrites! You travel over sea and land to make one convert. But when they’ve been converted, they become twice the child of hell you are’ (Matthew 23.15; CEB). God have mercy on us.
But notice that, while we may have failed to be Christ to the world, God uses the Other to accomplish that. In that last section, God (whom Jesus calls ‘Father’ but could have just as easily called God ‘Mother’), is not inhibited by us. Our Loving God has revealed what has been hidden from us to the Others.
Get that. Let it sink in.
There are some things that God has hidden from us. We are not the favorites. God has hidden things from us but has revealed them to that group over there, to those people, to that faith tradition. God’s plan to reconcile the entire creation is not limited to just us. Allelujah. God reveals truth to others. In the Lindisfarne Community, the religious order to which I belong, we have a saying, ‘All truth is God’s truth.’ We have no qualms about looking for Christ in the face of the Other - whether that person is our neighbor or our ‘enemy’. Do we get that? God has probably revealed some truth, some life changing, world reconciling truth to our enemies. We don’t have it all. We have only been given a part of the whole thing.
Furthermore, what we have been given we have taken and made it into something huge and foul and harsh and judgemental. We have created this ‘system’, this religion, that has quite literally destroyed countless lives, reeked unknown damage, and that has all but crumbled under the sheer weight of itself. And a lot of us don’t even notice it. But others have. The fact that we are becoming more and more obsolete to the world around us is evident by the sheer number of people who are leaving churches. Our way of being has become a huge burden to so many people even for those whom are staying in the church. Some have stopped calling themselves ‘Christian’ because of what that term has come to mean today.
But all is not lost. Jesus promises that there is another way, a better way of seeing; of being. For those of us who just can’t bear the weight of religion any longer, Jesus says that being like him, living his Way, being an authentic human being, is actually ‘light’ and ‘easy’. We have been duped into thinking that being Christ in the world is a load that can’t be carried. That we can’t possibly accomplish it in this lifetime. We have been told that living the Sermon on the Mount is a nice goal but we can never achieve it now. I’m hear to tell you that that is a bunch of crap. Jesus said that we can live that life now. He said that it’s easier and lighter to carry than the religious junk we have been told we must carry ‘to be a real Christian’. But let me let you in on a little secret - the world is not aching for another religion. It is not in the throws of chaos waiting for a new sect. No. Saint Paul wrote that all of creation is in turmoil waiting for God’s people to be God’s people! Not religious people but God’s people. All of creation is yearning for people to stop being Christian or Buddhist or Hindu or Jewish or whatever other religion (or no religion) and start being ‘the Word made flesh...full of grace and truth’. All of creation is longing for the Way of Christ to be manifested. And it can be done. Today. Right now.
And may it begin with me.
In the Love of the Three in One,