When you take in this whole passage of scripture you can’t miss the startling turn around in Jesus’ demenor. It is hard to pin down the exact emotions Jesus expresses as this passage begins, but they are exquisitly human feelings to be sure! These emotions are so much part of the human experience that I can follow and serve a God who has experienced them as well. Jesus not only confronts his listeners, he also condemns them. Listen to this: “Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida!…” Jesus is really ticked off! And then suddenly his whole approach changes.
16“But 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.” 20Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. 21“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.”
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.”
Peter Woods told of seeing this man being interviewed on the T.V. Most likely what caught his attention was that he wore the robes of a monk and looked ever so serene and, of course, the shaved head certaintly didn’t hurt. The interviewer asked: ‘Are you telling me that you never get angry?’
The Monk replied: ‘No I experience anger but I choose not to act on it.’
The Interviewer, evitably incredulous says: ‘So if you are on the freeway and someone cuts in front of you, you won’t hoot or yell at them?’
The Monk: ‘I might think of doing those things but I will ask myself this question before acting, “What will this change?”’
“What will this change?” Wow, what a question. I look at the shape the world is in today. After forty years of ministry things clearly aren’t better and I can’t help but wonder whether I might be the problem. I’ve preached somewhere between 1,400 and 1,500 sermons and, as a preacher I have to ask myself — What did they change? I’d like to ask Jesus what triggered the change we see in him? Was it someone’s facial expression that got his attention? Did he sense hurt or remorse on the part of his listeners? Or did he simply remember his own parable—the one about the reckless sower who doesn’t care where the seed falls or what it produces, leaving the outcome to God? We will never know.
What I do know is that Jesus, after venting his spleen at the hard hearted, non-responders, turns to prayer and thanks God for those who are able, because of their innocence and of their lives full of labor and pain, to hear and receive something new. The proud and arrogant, those who have all the answers, those who think they are “self-made” will never see and receive what the burdened and heavily laden ones see and receive. There is something about the pain of human suffering that stirs the soil for the fertile seed of Jesus’ words. What did these words change? If you ask the burdened and heavily laden ones who have come to Jesus down through the ages, they will probably testify that those words changed everything! Maybe these words will do that for someone today too?
Hear, now, God’s grand invitation of grace, given to us through the words of Jesus when he says, Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
There are stories Jesus told that tell of God’s unconditional love, like the father who rushes out to embrace his rebellious son, like the woman who searched long and hard for a missing piece of her dowry, the shepherd who couldn’t rest until a wayward lamb was safely restored to the fold. Like the hen who gathered her chicks beneath her wing—just so would God gather us into his arms of love and care. None of these stories seem as personal, as intimate, as this invitation from Jesus himself.
We are clear about other demands Jesus makes, like: “Follow me”, “Repent”, “Pray”, “Watch” “Go”, “Love”. And here, just as clearly, he calls to us to “Come”. “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Interestingly enough, we assume we know what this offer of an easy yoke and rest means. And maybe that’s the genius of it. This offer of grace stands open to our giving it meaning like an empty vessel waiting to be filled. Who among us can’t understand what it means to have labored, to have been heavy laden and to be in need of rest? We each come reluctantly to this verse with all our own stuff wondering whether we too can qualify and find Jesus’ gracious offering of respite.
Richard Foster tells of being frustrated as he was composing his book Prayer Finding the Heart’s True Home. He said his head was swimming with all the debates about prayer and the approaches to prayer. He had read too much, studied too much. He was experiencing over load. Being alone in the library late at night he remembers throwing up his hands and saying “ How can anybody, in one book, deal with all the intricacies and all of the difficulties of prayer? There’s no way.” He concluded that “It can’t be done. I just won’t write the book.” Then, he recalls that something happened to him or rather there was something he saw that he had trouble describing. “The only way that I know to say” he wrote” is that what I saw is the heart of God”. He described it as an open wound of love and he said he heard the voice of a true shepherd, not outwardly, but inwardly saying to him “I don’t want you to abandon the project. Instead, I want you to tell my children that my heart is broken. Tell them it hurts me, their distance from me, that they are filled with much-ness and many-ness. Tell my children to come home. I welcome them to my heart.”
Maybe it’s like a grandchild whose frightful attempts at making music is beautiful to our ears, or the museum quality crayola drawing on your refrigerator. In that same way no child of God can utter a bad prayer because God hears it as from one who has chosen to share from their life. To God it is always a beautiful prayer.
In Jesus wondrous invitation, God welcomes us home. He welcomes us into a place of rest and intimacy where we can know and be known. The good news is that God’s heart is open wide to receive us. His arms are stretched out to bring us in. In Christ, God graces us with forgiveness when we cannot do the good that we want to do, with rest when we cannot bear the burden, with freedom to be who we are created to be. Where is anxiety when we truly know this freedom?”
In Luke’s gospel Jesus said that people would run out into the desert and say “Lo!” here and they would run up into the mountains and say, “Lo!” there, and Jesus answers saying, “Oh no, it is nigh unto you, even in your midst.” Do you see? Jesus Christ is alive and here to teach his people himself. Yes, the noise of our lives may make it difficult to hear. I’ve been in factories where there are special booths that absorb much of the noise where people who need to hear and understand one another can go. They have big signs over them that read “Hear Here”. So the call is to go inside yourself and find that quiet place and listen. God through Christ is available to you and to me. What was it Jesus said? Oh, yes, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” It makes me want to sing “I’ve found it so. I‘ve found it so.”