Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Knowing Jesus Today. A Homily from Matthew 11:25-30 July 6, 2014



Homiletic Thoughts on the Gospel Reading 
first posted July 3, 2011, Year A
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time





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The Gospel reading for today brings to our memory these incredible and often quoted words of comfort from Jesus: 
"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.
but there is more here than words of comfort, as important as those words are to us.

This text also presents us, dare I say it, with theology. In fact, there is a somewhat stringent GOD-talk at work in the text. And this portion of the conversation with the text may, at first, challenge our view of how GOD is to be found in this world. But it is good to be challenged on occasion, it helps us grow and helps us solidify what we really understand about our faith.

Therefore, to help us unpack this text, we will think-through 4 statements:


  • JESUS IS KNOWN IN OUR HUMILITY OR HE IS NOT KNOWN 
  • JESUS REPRESENTS THE FATHER TO US AND US TO THE FATHER 
  • JESUS LIFTS THE BURDENS OF BOTH RELIGION & THE HUMAN CONDITION 
  • JESUS OFFERS US NEW LIFE AND A NEW WAY TO LIVE 

JESUS IS KNOWN IN HUMILITY OR HE IS NOT KNOWN AT ALL

Today’s text reads:

At that time Jesus exclaimed:
“I give praise to you, Father,
Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
GOD is said to have hidden from the wise and revealed to the little ones the understanding of Jesus' presence and teaching. We might well ask just what GOD has against wisdom, but I think this misses the point.

What is in view are those living in pride because of their wisdom; those who think they know better than others; those with pride of life and the power that comes from prestige and privilege. And, I do not think it is GOD who actively conceals the reality of the Christ, so much as the pridefully-wise who refuse to see.

Anyway, it is the weak, the anawim -- poor ones seeking God for deliverance -- to whom Jesus reveals himself.

When I think about the end of days I sometimes can visualize this long line of people waiting to see the Christ, and to receive rewards for their time lived on earth, time that somehow honored the gift of life given to them by the Almighty. 

In this line are all the power-guys of Christianity -- the TV preachers, the great brains of the faith, all ranked from most influential to least. But, strangely, at the head of the line is not Billy Graham, or the mega-church pastor, not even Paul or Luther. No, it's some old woman of color, who lived in a tenement somewhere in a mega-city who raised her kids to live in faith and to care for their community.

Said differently, all of us will be surprised just how GOD values and evaluates the individual heart, but be sure of this, without humility we will none of us see the Christ.


JESUS REPRESENTS THE FATHER TO US AND US TO THE FATHER

The text reads: 

All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
Clearly, the Christ is said here to reveal the Father to those whom he wishes, and this revealing ministry opens to us the unique -- which means one of a kind -- position the Christ brings to our relationship with the Father and the Father’s relationship to us.

Whatever our Christology, if it is to be a Christology in more than name only, it seems to me it must include this idea of the dual representation -- the Christ presenting us to GOD and GOD to us. Here I want to follow the work of Douglas John Hall, who reminds us that the primary challenge in this regard has always been to hold tightly to the humanity of the Christ. In this regard he writes:

"One glimpses the God whom Jesus represents as one who follows the human life he leads, the relationships he forms, the responses he makes to power, to weakness, to illness and death, to sin and to the demonic."
Which Professor Hall takes to mean that:
"The transcendent significance of Jesus of Nazareth -- his being the Christ of God, the revelation of the Absolute -- is inductively, not deductively, communicated. Jesus is ultimately significant not because the church says that he is significant but because, here and there, now and then, faith perceives this significance in and through and behind what is sees and hears of this person." (emphasis his)
Said another way, we actually meet the Christ of GOD found in the person of Jesus of Nazareth by the events recounted of his life, which are mediated to us through the Spirit, the text and the actions and practices of the community created (we would say supernaturally) around the person of this 1st century Hebrew.

But notice the other direction is important as well, where Jesus represents us to GOD. Quoting Professor Hall once again:

[Jesus’] “life is one of a unique relationship with God, a relationship that enables him to relate to us -- to humanity -- in a manner that is also unique. Simultaneously, his exceptional solidarity with humankind gives him the possibility and the right to represent us before God. Precisely in his true representation of God, Jesus moves inevitably ever closer to humanity -- to the point of complete identification with the human condition, the cross; precisely in his true representation of humankind -- of true (what is, authentic) humanity..."

JESUS LIFTS THE BURDENS OF BOTH RELIGION & THE HUMAN CONDITION

The text reads:

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest."
To Jesus' original hearers this promise of comfort, of course, comes in response to the heavy burden place upon the people by the laws of religion. These laws, some moral some ceremonial, all served to actually separate them from the relationship with GOD they desired. Jesus here offers his way, his response to the law, which was not to toss it overboard, but instead it was to offer its fulfillment by the power of his person -- "I will give you rest."

Today's Western context for the Christian faith is hardly over-burdened by an overtly zealous religious law. In general our faith expression is very free-wheeling. So what burdens us as a people? From what do we need to rest?

I have often here quoted Sally Morgenthaler, to display the challenge to us with the death of Christendom. She said, 
"The culture is having a spiritual conversation, but the church is not invited."
Underneath this quote is this question: Have you ever wondered about the details of this conversation from which we are excluded? Just what is being discussed? Could it be a searching for a way beyond the deep deadness and profound emptiness of post-modern life?

For we post-moderns, a spiritual deadness lives at the heart of our lives. We enjoy power and freedom, living by clocks and calendars. We experience very little need (this may be changing since 2008), but there is a lostness to the soul of our people that cannot be hidden by the trappings of possessions. There is this emptiness that resides at the heart of post-modern life that eats away at the soul.

Recently, I had a conversation with a thirty-something who honestly opened his heart to me, telling me of an emptiness inside that caused him some mornings not to want to wake-up. There was a sadness that reminded me of Jesus weeping over the city because he saw them as sheep with no shepherd.

Today's case is somewhat different, however. The church, as the living community of the Christ, actually weeps very little; we can't in our self-absorption. Now it is the crowd who weeps or medicates to numbness.

What will the community of faith do? When will the community formed by the Christ hear the cries of the lost?


JESUS OFFERS US NEW LIFE AND A NEW WAY TO LIVE

Finally, the text reads:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
Jesus offers those who would carry a heavy burden as a life-walk a different type of burden, one he promises to share with us. What we say around here is that following the Christ means we are offered a brand new life -- a new start to our autobiography, and a new way to live -- a way to discover what true humanity was meant to be.

And we would declare, to all who care to listen, that this new life and this new way to live is the actual, living response to the soul-deadness, the heart and art decadence of the current cultural context.

So, we have good news. The most wonderful thing has happened! The GOD of the universe has been at work all along, in and through the Christ. All one need to do is to look beyond the cultural captivity of the heart to see there is meaning and hope.




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Matthew 11:25-30