“To what shall I compare this generation?”
Generational comparisons seem to be very much in vogue these days. It is practically a national pastime.
There isn’t a week that goes by that we don’t read something about how “The Greatest Generation” is passing away, or “the Boomer Generation” is declining, or how the Millennial Generation seems to be to blame for this trend or for that change.
Comparing generations usually results in value judgements about them. Some Generations come off better than others by comparison, or so we believe.
Or maybe it is the case that the lens we use to view those generational differences is naturally skewed by our own experiences and perceptions. The generation that I am a part of after all, I tend to view more favorably than those before or after me.
Comparing generations almost always means that someone will be upset, someone else will feel vindicated, someone else will be hurt or offended, and still someone else will feel justified.
Generational comparison is not very helpful in the long run.
So, it’s a surprise to hear Jesus go down the path of comparing generations. As one might suspect, it does not come off at all flattering to everyone – maybe to anyone.
John was too austere, all that fasting and repenting. This generation didn’t like all that locust and wild honey stuff that he was involved in out in the wilderness. Making himself out to be a prophet, who does he think he is?
Jesus (on the other hand) appears to be too liberal for this generation. They didn’t care much for his ignoring of the traditions of the elders, or of his eating with tax collectors and sinners and clear love of a good glass of wine, and don’t even get us started with the whole hand washing thing!
It’s foolishness, all these comparisons. No one ever measures up to this generation’s expectations!
So, this generation is like children who can’t decide what game they want to play and so they end up spend the whole recess arguing about it instead of playing together.
That is what this generation of Pharisees, leaders, and priests are like, Jesus says.
From here it would be a quick jump into making comparisons about our own generation and its leadership, wouldn’t it?
We have honed the art of arguing instead of playing nicely together into a science.
We do so in the halls of congress.
In the state and local governments.
In the family gathering.
In the church.
In the debate over wearing a mask or not.
In the arena of sports and entertainment.
Like the illustration used by Jesus, (children in the marketplace) we seem to be unable to agree upon anything!
We find ourselves consumed with getting our own way.
The idea of playing together, of arrive at common goals or interests, seems altogether lost on us.
It would be fairly easy to “partisan up” this parable, introduce donkeys and elephants and go that direction, and I would be in trouble for it.
But in fact, that is exactly what Jesus did at first as well.
The portion of the reading left out here today is a list of “woes” upon named cities. Jesus name drops the cities of Chorazine, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. They are rich cities, important cities for Judean people at the time. They were places Jesus expected that his message of the Kingdom of God would have been enthusiastically received.
Instead, this is what happens.
Arguments arise about whether John was really from God, or whether Jesus is who he claims to be, and the signs and wonders are ignored or argued over by the leaders of the synagogue.
“For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, (Jesus says) they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you.”
And Jesus calls those places out by name for it!
But just pointing out the foolishness of the people, (their proclivity to argue,) is not an end in and of itself for Jesus.
He does make this condemnation political and personal, by name dropping these important cities, but he does so in order to emphasize this next move, and it is a surprising move, or at least feels that way to me.
‘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.’
We tend to focus on the first part of this invitation, the “Come to me all you that are weary…”
We’re weary, all right.
We are frustrated with this pandemic.
We are weary with partisan bickering.
We are exhausted by the inability to sort out truth from lie, fiction from fact, and fabrication from the construction of a logical argument.
It is wearying and it is a heavy burden to carry.
My choices literally affect the lives of others now.
The choices I make about wearing a mask or not.
The choices about where I go, who I visit, where I may be inadvertently carrying a virus, or coming into contact with it weigh heavy on our daily lives.
So, coming to Jesus is perhaps more appealing now than ever.
“Here Jesus, you take this…..”
But as I read this story again, I hear something new in it.
Not so fast, you don’t just get to dump your weariness on Jesus, nor do you get to demand help from him. That makes you no better than children in the marketplace who either want their parents to fix everything for them, or who would rather insist on their own way than learn how to play a different game.
No, instead this time I hear very clearly Jesus giving us the key as to how we can find that rest, and it feels counter-intuitive to us.
It comes at us after the calling out by name of the arrogance of the leadership of those cities.
“Take my yoke upon you…” Jesus says.
That’s an invitation to take on more, and if you’re weary, who wants to do that? Who wants to put something else on their back, stick their neck out to slip into something more constrictive?
I came here for rest Jesus, now you want to slap a harness on me?
But look at it again. It’s really an invitation to pull together rather than to insist on one’s own way.
Humble of heart.
If you’re yoked, harnessed together with another, all your own strength and power is worthless unless it is channeled through that yoke with the other.
So, to hear Jesus invite you to take on the yoke with him is first of all an invitation to hear that you are up to this! Jesus considers you evenly matched to the task at hand. You have the complimentary to skills needed and evenly matched to pull together with him in this matter of bringing in the Kingdom of God.
“Go ahead, slip this on, stick out your neck a bit….we can do this together.”
That’s the invitation of Jesus here.
“It’s easy,” he says, “the load we’ve got to carry is easier to pull when we are doing this together.”
But that’s not the only thing that jumps out at me, and maybe because this is July 4th weekend and we so we find ourselves filled up with national pride, which is admittedly a bit more difficult to come by this year.
We’ve been humbled, friends and neighbors.
When compared to how the rest of the world has dealt with the virus, it is apparent that we as a nation are failing. The numbers do not lie, and the unsettling truth behind the numbers appears to be our own arrogance.
We don’t like wearing masks.
We don’t like being told what we can and cannot do.
We insist on our own freedom at the expense of the neighbor.
Our leaders bicker and contradict each other instead of pulling together. It appears to be a full on “Children in the Marketplace” experience right now.
I know I am in dangerous waters here, but I urge you to listen to Jesus on just this very point.
Listen to how it is that you will find this “rest” and the “easing of heavy burdens.”
“learn from me; Jesus says.
“learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart,” Jesus says,
“learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jesus says.
Being “gentle and humble in heart” seems to be the key to finding the easing of burdens and some rest for the soul.
This is hard for us as Americans for so much of what have been conditioned to do is to argue our own position, our own point of view, insist on a show of strength and impose our own will upon others.
That simply has been a part of our history, and for as much as it drove some things, empowered them, it also left damage in its wake that we have never really accounted for or looked back to come to terms with it.
I may be way off base here, but as I read this passage today I sure hear an invitation from Jesus to change our behavior.
I hear an invitation from Jesus away from fierce independence toward inter-dependence, being bound and attached to one another to pull together instead of going our own way.
I hear an invitation from Jesus to stop thinking so highly of ourselves, to put away our pride in deference to the kind of humility that allows us to be gentle with one another again, to listen to one another, and to care for one another.
That is how burdens get lifted, Jesus seems to say here.
That is how weariness gives way to rest.
Learn how to be gentle and humble of heart and pull together.
It’s not a popular message I realize for an Independence Day weekend.
But then Jesus wasn’t really known for giving popular messages. He was known for giving messages that shook people up, and told it like it was, and for telling parables to make people, — to make us think.