Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
The Holy Gospel according to Matthew, the 11th chapter. Glory to you, O Lord.
[Jesus spoke to the crowd saying:] 16“To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces 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.”
25At 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.”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus says to us: “Take my yoke upon you.”
As you know, I just returned from three weeks at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. This was the third time I have been a student at LSTC. A long time ago, I was there as a deaconess candidate for my Master of Arts in Religion degree. Back in those days, deaconesses didn’t preach. We took classes in Christian Education and Youth Ministry instead of preaching. That was what God called me to do back then and I am grateful for the opportunities I had to do it.
When I went back there for my M.Div., a few years ago, I did take preaching, of course. But not all the seniors got to preach in chapel, and I didn’t get a turn. So, this time, as a DMin student, I finally got to preach in the seminary chapel.
I was pretty happy when I first found out that I was going to be preaching there. Then it sunk in that I had to write another sermon on top of getting all the reading and papers finished up for three weeks of classes.
And when I looked at my long list of books to read and papers to write, adding another sermon on top of that burden got a little frustrating.
Jesus sounds like he might be a little frustrated at the beginning of our gospel today. When he is talking to the crowd, he compares them to a bunch of kids. A bunch of kids who just can’t be pleased no matter what you do for them.
Here’s a little dance music for you kids. O, You don’t like this song? OK fine, not in the mood for dancing, I guess. Okay, so you are feeling down today, I get that, I will sit with you and cry with you if you are sad. Nope, you don’t want that either, huh? Nothing pleases these children.
John the Baptist tried one tactic. He decided that the ascetic spiritual route was the way to go. He thought that surely it would impress people if he lived by himself in the wilderness, didn’t eat real food, and wore rough, homemade clothes. People just accused him of being weird, maybe even a little crazy, you know.
Jesus, on the other hand, was more the friendly, outgoing type. He was always ready to go have dinner with you. He hung out with everybody, no matter who they were. Run out of wine, no problem, he’ll make more.
So people accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard, of being the kind of guy who is always hanging out with the wrong kind of crowd.
Sometimes, no matter what you do, you just can’t win. There is no way to please everybody. This is true in families for sure. If you are a parent, you know that no matter what you do sometimes, somebody is going to be unhappy about it.
You grill hamburgers for supper, one of the kids is going to ask why we can’t ever have pizza. You take everyone on a vacation to the mountains, somebody is going to complain it isn’t the beach. You spend a bunch of money and take them all to Disneyland, and you buy everybody a Mickey Mouse hat, and one of them is going to whine that they wanted the Donald Duck hat.
It’s not just kids and families though. It happens at work. Somebody is going to complain that you took the early lunch break instead of the late one. You change that, and somebody else is going to complain that you took the late time that they wanted.
You work hard and you write a report in a certain way to please your boss. But, then your boss tells you that their boss wants an entirely different report, on their desk first thing in the morning. This means you have to ask your co-workers to give you different information than what they already gave you. So they aren’t happy. Now, you have to stay late. Your spouse isn’t happy.
It’s not just kids. It’s not just families. It’s not just work. The church is not immune.
At one congregation I served, the Sunday service was broadcast on the radio. So, you couldn’t pause for a few seconds for anything. The organist would play “Jesus loves the little children” when the kids came up for their message, so there was always something to listen to. If there was a few seconds of quiet, the radio station would cut us off and start playing country music.
The microphone battery died once and the woman in charge of the broadcast was crawling around behind me in the pulpit trying to reach in my pocket. She was too late and the phone rang all day Monday with complaints about the service going off the radio and the middle of my sermon turning into country songs.
We know it’s not really about pizza or burgers, Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse hats, or even radio broadcasts with country music. Jesus understood that sometimes we just like to complain. And that most of the time the things we complain about are not the real problem.
The real issues may be completely unrelated to the actual complaint. The real issues are often far deeper questions. Questions about whether we feel loved. About whether we believe someone cares. About where we feel like we belong.
Does it really matter if John ate locusts? Or if Jesus had a glass of wine with his dinner? Or whether you like Mickey mouse or Donald Duck? No, of course not. Those are not the real issues at all.
Jesus knew what the real issues were. He knew what burdens the people were really carrying around. He knew how hard their lives were. He knew the things that weighed heavy on their hearts.
He said to the disciples: “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.”
Yokes are always associated with work. Jesus worked as a carpenter. When I think of carpenters, I think of people who make furniture. It might have been nice if carpenter Jesus had said, “Here, I made you this comfortable rocking chair. Come have a seat on the front porch. Here, have a glass of iced tea.” But, Jesus didn’t make us each a rocking chair. He made us a yoke.
For us non-farm people, a yoke was a piece of wood that the farmer placed across the necks of oxen to enable them to pull a plow or wagon. The yoke spanned the necks of two oxen so they could combine their pulling power. A load that would be too much for one ox could be very easy work for two.
A lot depended on the person who made the yoke. A too-heavy yoke would add to the burden. A badly fitted yoke would rub the animals' necks raw.
There was a legend about Jesus. According to the legend, Jesus carved excellent yokes. According to the legend, people came from all over the country to buy yokes from Jesus. It was worth their while to seek out Jesus, because a Jesus made yoke would keep the oxen comfortable all day. A Jesus made yoke would enable their oxen to do more work –– and to do it more comfortably.
It's just a legend, but it could be true. We know that Joseph was a carpenter. We know that he would have taught Jesus his trade. It is likely that, as a carpenter, Jesus made ox-yokes. If he did, I am sure that he made them very well.
Jesus says to us, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus is the on the other side of that yoke with us. He is standing right there beside us, pulling most of the weight, especially when the field is hard to plow. He is yoked to us when there is too much to do, too little time to do it, and too many people to complain about it.
Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Jesus knows what your burdens are. He knows how hard your lives are. He knows what is weighing heavily on your hearts.
Jesus calls us, you and me, along with anybody else who is carrying any kind of heavy burden. He calls us to walk along side him, to share his yoke.
There is no greater honor. There is no greater blessing. For Jesus is gentle and humble in heart. And, he promises, “You will find rest for your souls.” Amen.