Summary: As we come together to worship every week, we admit our hunger for God. God sees our emptiness and feeds us the choicest food, the flesh and blood of the one who invites us today to take his yoke upon us and learn from him for he is meek and humble.
Have you ever noticed that there are always some people who can never be satisfied or happy with anything? Jesus did, and in our Gospel reading from Matthew this morning he compared the people of his day to children who can’t be satisfied by any game or activity, whether it is festive or sombre. Their actions reflected their lack of wisdom.
Jesus wasn’t the first person that the Pharisees didn’t accept. The people rejected John the Baptist because of his lifestyle, and they also rejected Jesus because he socialized with people who were sinners. The people of Jesus’ time knew that a Messiah was coming and that he would set them free. The problem was that the people were expecting a military-type of ruler who would drive out the Romans and return Israel to the glory days of the reign of King David. They were not expecting a simple, humble servant.
Like Jesus, John the Baptist was seen as someone other than who he really was. He was seen as a demon-possessed lunatic, and Jesus was seen as a glutton. John’s austerity in dress and food underlined the severity of his message. Jesus, on the other hand, went to where the people were and became a participant in their condition, if not their sin, where the joys and sorrows played out in families, towns and cities.
The people of John’s and Jesus’ time rejected God by rejecting his messengers; neither approach pleased them, because neither man fit into their mold, so they lodged contradictory complaints. In both cases, the wisdom of the courses of action of both men was proved only by the results. In other words, the ends justified the means. We often want the Jesus we want, when we want him. The people in Jesus’ time were the same, and he was frustrated. The problem for those who reject Jesus is their awareness that taking John the Baptist and Jesus seriously requires people to change their lives.
The elite did not accept John the Baptist or Jesus-the poor did. The same situation exists today. There are those who think that they are so high in society that they don’t need God. Then there are those who are so downtrodden and suppressed by society that they eagerly accept Jesus’ teachings.
There is an interesting contrast in our Gospel reading this morning. Jesus is contrasting Man’s Law with God’s Law. Man’s Law was formed as the result of the Ten Commandments. God gave the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people to guide them through the moral traps of life, but well-intentioned people added on to the law until it became its own trap. Religious professionals prided themselves on their observance of the law, but even they couldn’t avoid breaking the law. The common person did not stand a chance of perfectly observing the law. All of these rules and regulations were a huge burden on the people. The law was a dispensation of terror.
The Pharisees’ rules were a burden in their time, just like man’s rules can be a burden in our time, especially when dealing with the government. If you don’t have every single “I” dotted and every single “T” crossed, dealing with the government can be a heavy burden. Not walking in step with the establishment is hard work and can be dangerous, but it can be done, and has been done in the past by people such as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa.
The world’s way of lightening burdens has always involved transferring the burden to a scapegoat, usually the poor. God hears our cries and can understand the difference between cries of pain, hurt, anger, frustration, joy and deep need. He longs to hold us while we cry, not saying anything, but showing immeasurable love through his powerful embrace. God will bring strength out of brokenness. He releases us from the bondage of having to prove our worth. We can live freely and lightly. He will never give us more than we can bear.
Jesus came along and said to the Pharisees, “Look, guys-you don’t need all of these man-made rules and regulations. You don’t need rules stating how far a person can walk on the Sabbath, or how clean they have to be in order to be part of society, or what type of work people can do on the Sabbath. That is not the intention of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are rules for how people are to live their lives and treat their fellow man. They are not meant to be a spiritual strait-jacket, but you, with your rules and regulations and determination to obey the letter of the Ten Commandments, have forgotten about the spirit of the Ten Commandments.” People might be learned in religious rules, customs and teachings, but our main source for understanding God’s ways doesn’t come from that knowledge. It comes from receiving Jesus and his message. In fact, strict observance of the law can make us blind to the Spirit’s freedom that Jesus is offering us.