Come to me you are who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
What comforting words those are from Jesus in this morning’s gospel –
ones that have certainly spoken to my own weary soul over the years.
And yet how do we come to Jesus in the daily practice of our lives? How
do we find this elusive rest?
The answer lies in the first part of our gospel this morning. Our readings
ends with a warm entreaty from Jesus, but begins with clear evidence of
his frustration. The people are not listening. What shall I say about you,
Jesus asks. It is like children, calling you by the sounds of the flute, and
yet you refuse to dance.
The reference to children is quite intentional; in the gospel children serve
as a proxy for a joyful openness to the Word of God. When we are
children, the world is a curious place full of wonder. We ask questions
only to see clear answers. We see goodness without cynicism. And yet
how often do we learn from the children in our lives? How often do we
heed the child within us?
It’s no stretch to see how Jesus himself might be feeling like the children
in his image. John the Baptist had been preaching and baptizing, but he’s
now in prison. Jesus has taken up his ministry of teaching. Both men were
calling the people to return to a faithful life, but in very different
ways—like the children’s messages about love. John hammered home his
message with confrontation and modeled an ascetic lifestyle. For that, he
was accused of having a demon. Jesus took a softer approach most of
the time; his lifestyle was a more joyful announcement of the coming of
the Reign of God. He ate and drank with all sorts of people without
reservation; he enjoyed a good party. For that, he was accused of being a
glutton and a drunkard, a friend of sinners and tax collectors. Neither
John nor Jesus could win, evidently.
What was wrong with these people? Couldn’t they see that Jesus and John
were inviting them to return once again to a faithful living of their
covenant, to a more kinder and just living out of the law that says to love
as you would be loved, to behave towards others as you would want them
to behave towards you? Your rest away, Jesus cajoles, just come alone. If
they would take his yoke on themselves, they’d find his yoke easy and his
burden light. How very obvious. How very simple. Or is it?
Well, of course it’s not simple, because as Paul makes clear, the best
intentions of human beings have been taking wrong turns for as long as
memory. In his letter to the Romans, Paul laments, “For I do not do the
good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” Doesn’t that sound
familiar? We know the good we should be doing, but somehow by the
time we get to adulthood, we get more and more tangled up trying to do it.
We lose our ability to listen to people pointing out the faults of our ways,
urging us to change. We have more trouble seeing the potential of a
judgement-free world. But somewhere along the way to growing up, the
stuff of the “real” world interferes, and whatever the good of our hearts,
we give into the wrong we don’t want to do.
We might consider what it is that makes it seem easier to do wrong.
Perhaps it seems easier to look out for ourselves, instead of putting the
effort into giving of ourselves to others. It certainly is easier to keep
company with people who are just like us than to put effort into listening
to different ideas or rubbing elbows with people we consider different. We
have to admit that in the church we much prefer to say “we’ve always
done it that way,” instead of trying something new. But if we can see the
answer so clearly for the people who failed to listen to Jesus two thousand
years ago, why do we still find it so hard to make the connection to our
Of course, listening to the gospel, we think: if Jesus was hear right now,
we would listen to him. We would be better. But would we?
A number of years ago, a book came out that became a bestseller. It was
called “Everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten.” The writer,
Robert Fulgham, describes how he was “sputtering along” in his days,
trying to find meaning. “The examined life,” he notes, “is not picnic.” And
one day, he thought: I have already learned what I need for a meaningful
life – when he was 5 years old, in kindergarten. What were those life
Share everything. Clean up your own mess. Play fair. Don’t take things
that aren’t yours. Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and
draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day
some. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands,
and stick together. Say sorry. Pay attention. Wonder.
As the author noted, all those life lesson can easily apply to adult life –
and yet we have forgotten them. It is a reminder that we learned in the
lessons of the gospel over and over again, if we only listen for them. For
gospel predates kindergarten – and yet it’s tenets are all those very same
Jesus is offering us his yoke – the symbol of obedience to God – not a
human yoke in the “real” world, but something that will sustain us through
the troubles of this world. If we accept that offer, we make possible our
ability to speak of God to others, to play the flute so others might dance –
with words and actions that make certain simple sense, distilled of all the
useless distractions of the grown-up world. When accept that offer, we
find rest. The deep and meaningful kind of rest that comes with a
purposeful life carefully lived. It is as Jesus says, “come to me, and you
will find rest in your souls.” Amen.