Can you sense when you are in a heavy environment?
Do you recognize when the environment is light?
How do you know?
In our Gospel story today, Jesus of Nazareth is getting impatient.
He seems to compare the behavior of the people around him to children bickering back and forth. Na, na, na, na, na, na na! Imagine your most annoying playground back-and-forth argument between two kids and you’re there.
But maybe that interpretation doesn’t work as well. It seems to me that the children aren’t the annoying ones. They are just responding to the frustrating apathy of those around them. They played the flute and tried to get a joyful reaction out of people, and…nothing. So then they went for crying, funeral-type thing, and that didn’t work either.
That of course is a reference to John the Baptizer, the guy who shouted at the people, calling them to change their ways; it didn’t work. They said he was crazy and demon-filled.
Then Jesus, who was different than John—perhaps a “softer” message of love; it didn’t work either. They called him a glutton and a sinner.
The kids are right. How frustrating. Try to motivate people with joy or with sorrow and neither attempt works. People were lifeless but they sure knew how to criticize.
Not much has changed, really. In the current religious landscape of the world, there are very, very loud and annoying people who call people names and criticize people who try to do something different, or lighter, or freer….
They call them sinners, for sure.
They call them pagans or unchurched or unbelievers.
Sometimes they call them derogatory names because of their sexual orientation.
They even say that some are going to hell…just because they interpret the Bible differently.
This is what happened then and it happens now.
People drag other people through the mud and call them names simply because of fear and ignorance. If it were just a few people doing it and no one paid attention, I wouldn’t care. But many of the mud-slingers are in positions of authority or have media influence and are seen on many screens and heard on many stations.
So they drag people with them into their heavy hate rhetoric.
And religions start sinking in the mud because of this. All of them.
Religious people stop loving and helping those around them; they stop looking for justice; they stop praying and meditating; they stop living mercy and compassion.
And this is my [and many people’s] complaint about religion in general.
We argue back and forth about who is right or more holy; we assert our positions on scripture and draw lines in the sand to separate people; we shout so many words at people in order to criticize them and then we do it on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever platform we can find. This is religion at its worst—just empty, hateful, and ignorant words.
Pure heaviness that no one would ever want to be part of.
And then, some good news that we’re supposed to focus on instead:
Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.
It’s really simple.
Wisdom, in the 1st and 2nd century, was understood as a presence equal to that of the Creator. Wisdom was part of the creation of whole universe. Wisdom was not a person or a thing or even a god, but wisdom was constant, and unbiased, and wonderful.
In the Jewish tradition of Proverbs 8, it says:
Wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Wisdom was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
Wisdom was there when the Creator set the heavens in place, marked out the horizon on the face of the deep. Wisdom was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in the Creator’s presence, rejoicing in the whole world and delighting in humankind.
And then, this advice from Wisdom Herself:
Now then, my children, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways.
Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.
For those who find me find life.
Wisdom shattered the empty, hateful words of the religious.
Wisdom drowns out the prejudice, mean religious people of today.
Because wisdom is evident not in words, but in deeds.
Anyone can make arguments and yell back and forth and point fingers.
But how many of those who shout actually do anything good?
A true prophet is known because he or she lives what he/she says.
And so in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says:
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 Sabbath rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Since when did religion [much less Western Christianity] become easy and light?
Since when did being a person of faith include rest, learning, and release to freedom?
Since then. Since now.
But we’ve walked away from this path—many of us.
We love the heavy “yokes” of doctrine and dogma so very much because it gives us black-and-white answers and gives us the excuse to judge and be prejudice against certain kinds of people. Often, religious people prefer that type of heaviness to the lightness, because having a lot of freedom in religious practice and thought means that there are no definitive answers and that no one gets it exactly right. Your god or your savior isn’t the best or the truest. That scares some people. And yes, it scares a lot of so-called “Jesus followers” who want nothing at all to do with a light burden and too much freedom. They view Jesus as a god who started the best and truest religion on earth.
But Jesus founded no religion.
Instead, Jesus offered Sabbath rest—the kind of holistic rest from all the rules, and restrictions, and heaviness.
Sabbath rest can even be translated as recovery and restoration.
So we’re all kind of religious addicts in recovery, on a road to get rid of our heaviness, our baggage; we’re on a road to be restored and to be light—to be free.
The Jesus yoke is not easy, actually.
The word means goodness, pleasant, worthy, loving, kind.
So if we carry such a yoke, we leave heaviness behind.
We walk light on our feet and we walk in light.
We stop shouting and pointing fingers.
We start treating all people with a light yoke of love, mercy, and freedom to be themselves.
We accept the Sabbath rest of recovery and refreshment for ourselves so that we offer it to others. And we learn to laugh a lot more, and to be lighter…and this is freeing.