Joshua 24:14-18, Matthew 11:25-30
November 13, 2016
I love this image of Jesus, that he is, “gentle and lowly in heart.” Isn’t that great? When I think of Jesus, I think of those traits. He was kind, compassionate, and caring. He was powerful, yet humble. Besides that, he went to places others wouldn’t go. He loved those others wouldn’t love. And, when he saw the large crowds, his heart went out to them. He said, they were “like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus was as he says here. He was “gentle and lowly in heart.” But… I wonder if the Pharisees thought so!
My brother and I were talking the other day, and we were remembering how Jesus was very critical of the religious leadership. He had some harsh words for them, didn’t he? “Broods of vipers,” he called them. We’re talking about the priests of Israel!!! “Whitewashed tombs!” “Full of dead men’s bones!” I wonder if they would have thought him “gentle and lowly in heart” in those moments.
I wonder how that would have looked in our day. I think that’s hard for us to imagine. We religious leaders today think we have a better understanding of God’s kingdom than the religious leaders Jesus dealt with 2000 years ago. We think we’re more in tune with God and less concerned with all the “conventions of religion.” But I often wonder… would I be among the “wise” Jesus was talking about here? The wise to whom “the things of heaven are hidden?” Or would I be the “innocent,” to whom he revealed himself, and to whom he reached out.
That was part of Jesus being “gentle and lowly in heart.” That was his life and ministry! Jesus didn’t reach out to the right people! And he was criticized by those religious leaders for associating with – and even eating with – sinners, outcast, and traitors. (That’s how the tax collector were seen!) He ministered to lepers. Just think about the time Jesus healed the leper by actually touching him! Nobody would do that! A gasp would have gone through the crowd who were watching!
Jesus was criticized for all that. And he had criticism for those religious leaders, because a lot of the time he saw them as “high and mighty.” And as I’ve thought of this, isn’t that expression “high and mighty” the opposite of “gentle and lowly?” That was the tension in Jesus’ ministry. It was a pull between the “High and mighty” and the “gentle and lowly?” Jesus recognized that those religious leaders were often the ones who made the outcast feel “out cast.”
There’s a lot of talk these days about the outcast. We’ve been hearing about those who are “disenfranchised” and “marginalized” in our world. In Jesus’ world, those are the people he reached out to. He reached out to the sinners and the tax collectors. Ever notice how the tax collectors had their own category?! It’s almost like they were worse than sinners!
So, think about the people Jesus would reach out to today. Who would they be? Who are the disenfranchised and the marginalized in our world? Who are the people no one likes, who no one respects, or who no one values? Is it the poor? Those in the gay community? Illegal immigrants? The uneducated? The drug addicts? Those of an opposing political party? (And please notice how I’m not aligning myself with anyone here!) There are people in our society who are not seen as having value. But I believe Jesus gave them that value. And remember, it wasn’t “for God so loved the right people.” Or even “for God so loved his people.” It was “for God so loved the world!”
Well, I think you know where this is going. We are called to be like Jesus. “Learn from me,” he says here. We too are called to be “gentle and lowly in heart.” But sometimes I wonder who would dare to do so. I was also thinking the other day that sometimes we “pick and choose” among the attributes of Jesus that we would prefer to emulate. Don’t we? Well, he says, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart.” And we can’t learn from him unless we seek to know him!
In the days of the great awakening, the religious establishment in the american colonies looked down on this “upstart” named William Tennant. He dared to teach religious students in his “Log College,” in what is now Warminster. The established leadership were all trained in ivy covered stone institutions in Europe. And they looked down on Tennant. And Tennant dared to teach his students that all the higher learning and refined theology was nothing without a personal relationship with God. That is what theology is supposed to do for us! And those established clergy might have shouted along with the Pharisees, “How dare you presume to teach us!”
Jesus challenged the priests of Israel on that! A lot of the next chapter in Matthew is about them defending their practice and understanding, and judging him against that. And it’s about him challenging them on those religious practices and conventions. And it happened with all the people watching! We could go on a long time talking about all of that! But let us just say that this is something we have to be wary of ourselves.
We pride ourselves on our understanding of things, don’t we? We’re firm sometimes in our point of view. And we are “comfortable” with our theology. We strive to know the right things. But, we need to be sure we are “doing theology” for the right reasons. Theology is not about making us look better in God’s eyes. It’s not about making ourselves look better in others’ eyes. Theology should be done with humility. And that was the problem with “the wise,” as Jesus called them here. Their learning had became a “prideful” thing for them. And we need to listen to his words and know that, theology does not point to us. If we’re doing theology, and it does not point us to God, or bring us into a closer relationship with him, then there are better things we could be doing with our time!
I think you’d agree with me on that. But! If we strive to be closer to God, that calls us to be more like Jesus. And, Jesus was gentle and lowly in heart. And Jesus had an affinity with the weary and the heavy laden. He said to them, “Come unto me… and I will give you rest.” He said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…” Again, that’s an important part of this. We need to be like Jesus! We need to “take his yoke upon us and learn from him.”
Do we do that? Or do we ever refuse to take a serious look at ourselves? Do we ever insist only on our own point of view, our own opinion, our own vision of whatever we are doing or seeing? Are we ever “high and mighty” as opposed to being “gentle and lowly in heart? Do we strive to “let go, and let God,” as the old expression goes?
Folks this is not easy! And it may be “uncomfortable!” Like those people in Jesus’ time, it may cause us to re-examine things we have thought, maybe for a long time! And that’s scary! It may call us to give up some of our long time beliefs about people, beliefs that make us comfortable, that make us feel secure in ourselves. And that goes against the prevailing attitudes and beliefs of the world around us, doesn’t it? The world says, “Assert yourself.” “Make yourself better.” “Insist on your own opinion!”
There are so many reasons this is a great passage, and a great statement by Jesus! And it’s a statement so needed by our world today. There are a lot of opinions and viewpoints around aren’t there? This has been a tough week for that. There are many people this week who feel “weary and heavy laden.” Can we truly find rest? I wonder…
Now, I know I’m throwing around a lot of open-ended-ness here today. But that was my intention. I believe it’s healthy to question where you stand, what you believe, and who you relate to and how. I believe it’s important to seek to know who God really is – and it ain’t us! We’re not God! But we know a Jesus who is. And he calls us to learn from him, for he is “gently and lowly in heart.” And in him we will find “rest unto our souls.”
Lord, help us to listen, and to hear the still, small voice of your spirit. Help us to seek to know you better, and to be the people who call us to be. Help us to be meek and gentle, those things Jesus called “blessed.” May those be the fruits of your spirit living within us. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.