New Habits Of Seeing and Doing..

Posted: July 8, 2017 in Uncategorized

Pentecost 5A, 2017 Matthew 11:25-30

  New Habits Of Seeing and Doing..

Last week I talked about the need for us to shift our thinking in terms of our images of God. How do we talk about a non-theistic, non-supernatural God in a world where truth is an indication of uncertainty as opposed to certainty, a world where the planet earth image has moved from a large singularity in the galaxy into being just one place among millions and that human consciousness, specifically the minds part in it, is about a level of co-creative birthing of reality and that reality is a work in progress. A daunting, exciting opportunity or the herald of an immanent end of all things. This week I want to say the same thing in a different way. I want still to acknowledge that in the old language of faith, God is separated from us. God is a master, a king, a supernatural being, separated from common or ordinary folk. And that as a result, much of our own understanding until recently, was influenced by this kingly and removed character of God. This way of thinking is often called ‘neo-orthodoxy’. And I want to say that when we examine the language of Jesus in our context, we see that God is liberated from this kind of thinking. And so are common or ordinary people. This leberation is for me the gospel in a nutshell. The Jesus’ ‘yoke’ enabled the invisible people to be liberated,- those who didn’t know the law or were poor, landless peasants – to stand up, to be counted, to be seen as having value. And as such, to be preserved. This is the timeless gospel and it is our invitation as 21st century Christians.

I want now to tell you a story that says something about this gospel timelessness. There was a parish minister in Chile who was distributing food for the poor of his village. At the time it was a village caught in the crossfire of civil war and he was distributing the food which he had been given by friends in North America. He was arrested for doing this and sent to a prison in Santiago. The prison was overcrowded.  There were about 150 men were living there in a room that wasn’t big enough to let them all lie down at the same time. The parish minister took over the role of chaplain and held daily devotions and bible study for his fellow-prisoners.

It came time for his release and just before that took place the other prisoners wrote their names on his back with burnt matches. It was November and the weather was warm and as he left the compound he was fortunate enough not to be stripped and searched. So when he turned up at the local Peace Committee meeting most of the names – names of people who were listed as having ‘disappeared’ – were still legible. The men had returned; their names being written with burnt matches on a prisoner’s back. The hour of silence was at an end… The names written in black charcoal, became signs of hope. And this hope was a hope which could not be blotted out by the threat of torture, The names had already faced that fear and persisted. Nor was it a hope erased by the terror of silence or even by the softer terror of oblivion. The names had had already survived that assault.

There are many other such events in our own Western history which tell of one group seeking to devalue or enslave or silence, another group. One perhaps in our Scottish tradition as Presbyterians was the Disarming Act of 1746 which outlawed anyone in defined parts of Scotland from having in his or their custody, use or bearing of, a broad sword or targe, poignard, whinger or durk, side pistol, gun or other warlike weapon, unless authorised.

This disarming of the highland clans was followed that same year by the Act of Proscription known also as ‘the dress act’, which read….

That from and after the first day of August, One thousand, seven hundred and forty-six, no man or boy within that part of Britain called Scotland, other than such as shall be employed as Officers and Soldiers in His Majesty’s Forces, shall, on any pretext whatever, wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland clothes (that is to say) the Plaid, Philabeg, or little Kilt, Trowse, Shoulder-belts, or any part whatever of what peculiarly belongs to the Highland Garb; and that no tartan or party-coloured plaid of stuff shall be used for Great Coats or upper coats, and if any such person shall presume after the said first day of August, to wear or put on the aforesaid garment or any part of them, every such person so offending … For the first offence, shall be liable to be imprisoned for 6 months, and on the second offence, to be transported to any of His Majesty’s plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for the space of seven years.

This act had significant impact on the clans as dress was the main symbol of distinction and difference for a family, tribe or community and its outlawing went straight to one’s identity. For 36 years before the Dress Act was repealed thousands of men were transported. Many to Tasmania. Others were transported for bearing arms and for other reasons and between the years of 1803 to 1853 it is thought that 160,000 people were sentenced to transportation to Australia and these people ranged in age from a nine year old chimney sweep to an 82 year old woman. An horrific story of people who we devalued, imprisoned. silenced. And thus offered no hope!

This morning Matthew’s ‘socially-active’ Jesus story, reminds us that Jesus would have none of that. And neither should we. Matthew’s Jesus stands opposed to the common belief of his day that God loved some and not others. That some people had rights and others did not. That some people had value and others did not. That some people mattered and others did not. We cannot escape the challenge that in our own economic climate this is the case for many today. The God of Jesus, Matthew seems to be saying, does not saddle anyone with that kind of yoke. As with the challenge last week we are being invited to acquire new habits of seeing, and new habits of being… beyond the stained-glass images of an almighty benevolent God or a ‘meek and mild’ Jesus, we are to keep on liberating. To keep on naming the lost, the disadvantaged and the oppressed. To keep on supporting, nurturing and tending one another, with compassion. In other words to be signs of hope.

In our text Matthew is concerned about the real. How can you tell a true prophet from a false one?  Matthew says you can tell by their “fruit,” by what they do and what they produce (7: 15).  In today’s lection, God’s wisdom, which created the world, is justified by Jesus’ actual “works” in the world.

A translation of the text from verse 25 to 30 is as follows:  In that time, Jesus answered (and) said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you hid these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to children.  Yes, Father, for in this manner gracious purpose happened before you.  All things have been delivered 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 to whomever the Son might wish to reveal.”

“Come to me, all the ones who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart and you will find rest for your lives, for my yoke is lovingkindness and my burden is light.”

The few verses left out of the lectionary I think give some context to the afore mentioned and perhaps even to the extent of their plight when they express condemnation toward cities which opposed the Jesus movement–Bethsaida, Chorazin, Capernaum. The hiddenness being why some would oppose the movement and a suggestion that such opposition could contribute to the plight of those who engage in such activity.

In the face of this opposition, however, we have a kairotic moment.  “At that time,” Matthew says.  The word for time here is kairos, which means special time, the important moment, the time of God.  In a moment of special revelation, Jesus speaks.

He says I thank you and the words uses are not just an act of gratitude but convey a sense of celebration and joyous affirmation. In essence he is saying, “I give and am being given joyous affirmation of the Father, the Lord of heaven and earth.” “For you have hidden these things from the wise–sofown–and intelligent, and revealed–apocalypto–them to children.”  True wisdom, as we have seen, issues in following the Way of Jesus.  This way has been “hidden” from those who are “wise and intelligent,” but “revealed” to the insignificant.

Again here we are being reminded of the historical ministry of Jesus.  He was leading a non-violent peasant-based movement–a “childrens’ crusade,” after a certain manner of speaking–and he was opposed by the rich and powerful.  It is also apparently true for the community of Matthew in AD 80.  At that time it is still a peasant-based movement.

Despite the opposition they face, the sense of Jesus’ speech is joyous.  “All things have been delivered over to me by my Father,” he says.  The “Lord of heaven and earth” has delivered over “all”–panta, everything, the entire universe and everything in it–to Jesus. Jesus then goes on to say that “no one knows the son except the father, and no one knows the father except the son.”  The word “know” is ginosko, which means intimate knowledge.  The challenge here is to note that this kind of exalted, mystical “knowing” is reminiscent of the fourth gospel, and so we are asked if the author of the fourth gospel was somehow acquainted with the author of Matthew?

This close identification of son and father comes to human beings by revelation–“to whomever the son reveals.”  As in the fourth gospel, the intimate knowledge between Father and Son is not exclusive to the Father and the Son, but may also be shared with the children.  From that position, Jesus issues his appeal: “Come to me”:  The closing two verses are unique to Matthew, though there is a passage that is vaguely similar in Sirach (51: 26-27).  As noted above, there is a partial parallel in Thomas, verse 90. Most of our translations seem to over-spiritualize this passage.  Jesus is specifically addressing those who are over-worked and carrying a heavy load.  In first century Israel, that group consisted of poor people in a condition of political and religious oppression. He encourages them to take up his “yoke.”  “Yoke” was a common image for Torah and the Mosaic Law.  Instead of Torah, however, we are encouraged to take up Jesus’ yoke and “learn” from him.  (The word is mathete, from which comes the word for “disciple.”)  The “yoke” of Jesus is to learn his Way and follow it.  In marked contrast to earthly rulers, both political and religious, Jesus is “meek and lowly of heart.” The NRSV adds “and you will find rest for your souls.”  The problem with that addition is that for many it sounds too pious and too passive for the Greek which appears also in verse 28, and means not only rest, but sabbath rest, the kind of rest that puts a person on the road to recovery.  It has a sense not only of rest, but also refreshment.

Also, one of the Greek words refers to the essence of a person’s life.  It is more than “soul,” which, in any case, calls to mind images more related to Greek philosophy than Christian theology, which was almost surely not Matthew’s intent.  Another perhaps more accurate translation might be “…and you will find rest for your lives…”  Following the Way of Jesus—through open table fellowship, etc.–will set you on a path of true life. “For my yoke is lovingkindness.”  The word lovingkindness is a way of pulling together the concepts expressed in the Greek –“goodness, benevolence, pleasant, worthy, loving, kind,” or, even better, “active benevolence in spite of ingratitude.” Lovingkindness seems to capture all that. The claim here is that this truly wonderful text should not be pietized into worship of Jesus as if he were some kind of idol.  It thoroughly intends to encourage people along the Way of Jesus, to “learn” that Way and follow it, from which will come a truer and better life.

It is also a claim that egalitarian living is “lighter” than heirarchical living.  Living in light of the freedom and dignity of every person, and especially the poor, is not a “burden” but is, in fact, the way of true rest and true refreshment. The inference is that this is what counts as the gospel. This is what constitutes having wisdom. Jesus did that in his time.  We are invited to do no less today. To go on the journey which he first chartered and re-imagine the kingdom or realm of God from the perspective of gospel compassion and hospitality rather than biblical law/ In our day “to be a disciple of Jesus”, writes 1960s radical theologian Harvey Cox, “means not to emulate or mimic him but to follow his ‘way’, to live in our era the same way he lived in his – as a sign and servant of the reign of God.” And then there is the most important revelation of all “To follow Jesus requires us not to choose 12 disciples or to turn water into wine but to take his life project – the making the coming of God’s reign of Shalom real and immediate – making it our own” (Cox 1998/Religion-online).

Liberating people for this Way keeps alive the dream and presentness of God in the ordinary, be they the people in the transportation cells of Tasmania, the prison cells of Chile or the poor of Auckland. Be they the political demonizing of opposing points of view in government or industrial relations, left verses right or unions verses employers, or in places with asylum seekers. This is the call of the gospel and the challenge of our everyday.

Notes: Solle, D. Choosing Life. London. SCM Press, 1981.

 

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