Friday, July 3, 2020

Gospel Reflection: At the Core is Gentleness (Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30)

What leads to soul-rest?

But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.”For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the 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.’ At 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; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All 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. ‘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.’

When I was just a year into serving my first church after divinity school,  I was full of ideals. With all I had learned and with passion, I expected to see a real impact on the congregants and church I served. I dedicated myself to just causes and worthy endeavors for that reason. An older and wiser pastor who had served in West Texas towns for years, told me that I was a very idealistic person. He said it with compassion and wistfulness, as if “I used to be like that.”

We celebrate the inspiring ideals of the nation in a hymn like America the Beautiful: “America! America! God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.” We pledge ourselves, from young to old, to “liberty and justice for all.” In our national life, we often do not see the fruition of these ideals. There are, of course, glimpses from time to time. All of us, as Americans, inherit a wonderful freedom and responsibility as stewards to do the right as God gives us the ability. 

Psalm 72 presents a hope and prayer of what the king of Israel should be and do: “May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice… May he defend the cause of the poor…  give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor….For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper…From oppression and violence he redeems their life;  and precious is their blood in his sight…May there be abundance of grain in the land;  and may people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field…May all nations be blessed in him…”  Most of the kings of Israel did not measure up to the hope of Psalm 72. 

The dark side of idealism sometimes leads to making harsh judgments of myself and others. Life is hard enough, why make it more difficult? The wisdom of Jesus on the matter is to look at the deeds of his power and mercy. They reveal someone who has compassion on the crowds, the “lost sheep.” Matthew 9:36  Jesus’  invitation is for the “infants” or the “little ones” of Matthew 10:42. He wants all who live with loneliness and isolation, cut off from the blessings of faith, family, community,  and God- then and now- to come to him, and find rest for the soul. What does this rest look like?

The invitation of Jesus, “Come, all of you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens” is from the One who is gentle. God is not the petulant child in Matthew 11 that we never quite please, no matter how hard we try. At the heart of the universe is gentleness. The spiritual life is not about trying to please God the best I can.  Guilt doesn't have to define my relationship with God. I am invited to be gentle – both with myself- and with others who share my journey. Gentleness implies sister moral virtues like peace, patience, kindness, self-control. For me to find refreshment for my soul, another to-do list does not bring renewal. The simple movement to gentleness- giving myself and others a break- can bring rest and regeneration for my soul. It’s there for taking, for all of us, today.  

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