July 9, 2023 — The Rev. Hillary Kimsey

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In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Once upon a time there was a little girl named Goldilocks. Have you heard this one? Goldilocks was a very picky little girl who took up home invasions as a hobby. She was sent on some errands but those were no fun, so she decided to chase some butterflies. That’s how Goldilocks found the house of three bears. The bears had gone walking to let their porridge cool, and Goldilocks saw that no one was home and let herself in. She sampled their oatmeal and complained to herself about the temperature. She sat in their chairs but only one out of the three was any good. All this snacking and snooping made Goldilocks tired, so she wanted to take a nap. The big bear’s bed was too high at the head and the middle-sized bear’s bed was too high at the foot, but the little bear’s bed was just right, so our girl curled up and went right to sleep, which isn’t a sound strategy for home invasion, especially when bears are involved. The bears came home to eat, and the little bear found her in his bead, scared her awake, and Goldilocks ran away, never to be seen again, and her story became a lesson on bad manners.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus tells a story, a parable, about children just like Goldilocks, who are constantly dissatisfied. Jesus says, “To what will I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces 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 and 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!’”

How frustrated Jesus sounds! Some of the people he came to preach to are never satisfied. John the Baptist came preaching about repentance and fasting and punishment, but his listeners were like the children complaining that he did not dance when they played the flute. John was too serious, too strange, too grim. Then Jesus came, befriending those who were left out and taking meals with them and doing miraculous works on the Sabbath day, and the listeners were like the children complaining that he did not mourn with them when they cried. Jesus was not serious enough, gave his affection to outcasts, and flouted the rules too much!

Who does that sound like? John’s words are too cold, Jesus’s words too hot… nothing is just right! “This generation” as Matthew calls them, appears impossible to please, always complaining when things are not exactly how they want.

It’s worth wondering, for a minute, who Jesus is talking about here. He started his speech earlier in the chapter saying “you” but when he talks about “this generation” he switches to “they”, so he doesn’t seem to be comparing the whole crowd to whining children. If we follow the grammar, Jesus appears calls the crowd “you,” but he says “they” when he is talking about the Pharisees. So we can conclude Jesus’s frustrated parable about whining children is aimed at them.

The Pharisees were committed to following each point of Jewish law; many were devoted students of the Torah, the books of Moses, though some Pharisees drifted into legalism. These educated men would definitely have noticed when Jesus alluded to or quoted from the Torah, which Jesus does when he complains that “this generation” calls Jesus a glutton and a drunkard. This is a throwback to Deuteronomy, where “Moses declares that if parents cannot reform their son’s behavior, then they will complain to the elders that their child is stubborn and rebellious, disobedient and a glutton and a drunkard.” Put together Jesus’s parable about the whiny kids in the market and this quote from Deuteronomy, and we get Jesus basically comparing the Pharisees to naughty children, selfish and never satisfied, just like our friend Goldilocks.

This comparison is not especially flattering, but definitely not the worst criticism Jesus ever leveled at the Pharisees: “whitewashed tombs” or “brood of vipers” comes to mind. In this passage, the Pharisees are simply like misbehaving children. And children, even misbehaving ones, are precious beyond measure.

That’s why I’m not surprised that Jesus’s next words are to thank God for hiding the truth from the wise and revealing it to infants. It makes me think Jesus always had compassion on and hope for the Pharisees. He was comparing them to children after all… they just hadn’t embraced the right childlike qualities. I bet Jesus always hoped the Pharisees could shift from being immature adults complaining like naughty children to being mature adults with the childlike heart that can glimpse God’s own truth. I’m sure Jesus hoped for that. He was hard on them because he loved them too.

That older son in the parable of the prodigal son who moped and complained, resentful that his many years of devotion did not receive the reward his wayward brother received upon coming home in shame? That character was also likely representative of the Pharisees, and the Father, a symbol for Christ. And the father held onto that older son with compassion. “My son, my son! You have always been with me and everything that’s mine is yours.” Again, Jesus’s criticism is not without compassion. He loved the Pharisees, even as he tried to open their eyes. So we might not be surprised then, that this section ends with one of the most quoted invitations in all of Scripture.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

The crowd and the Pharisees among them would have heard this invitation from Jesus. And being constantly unhappy, unwilling to be pleased, impossible to satisfy–it is a burden on its own. Are you tired, perhaps, of looking at other people or even looking in the mirror, and thinking, too hard…too soft. Not quite right. Maybe there are people in your life who you wish were different than they are; maybe that person is yourself. Maybe you look at the church, the little c church and the big C church and think: too small, too corrupt, too old-fashioned, not enough money, too much money; maybe those worries find you. Maybe your life is so busy, so full of tasks and stress and grief that you have no time to simply be–to be quiet, to be pleased with God, to be amazed by the tiny miracles of life. It is exhausting, to be constantly wishing for something different.

“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.” A yoke is the wooden crosspiece that is placed over the necks of two working animals and connected to a plow or a cart. Traditionally, one animal would be older and more experienced, able to teach and lead the less experienced animal. That’s why this image is so poignant. When Jesus says, take my yoke upon you, he is prepared to carry it with us, every step of the way.

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” An invitation and a promise. With an image of labor, Jesus invites us to rest, physically and spiritually and mentally. He invites us to put away our inclination to be constantly dissatisfied with ourselves, the church, our loved ones or the world. Jesus invites us to let go of childish behaviors and embrace a childlike heart, easily amazed, easily delighted. Jesus invites us to stand beside him and try on his yoke, a gentle burden which he will carry with us, beside us. And if we try it on, really try it on… I think we’ll discover that the call from Christ to love life, to love our neighbors as they are, to love ourselves, just as we are, and to love God as best as we can… I think we’ll find the yoke is not too hard, not too heavy… but, with God’s help, fits just right.


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