Fourth Sunday after Trinity Matthew 11:16-19; 25-end Zechariah 9:9-12
‘It is a truth, universally acknowledged…, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ As strange as it may sound to some, even those who have never read the opening phrase of this book, would probably know that it’s from ‘Pride and Prejudice’, by Jane Austen. And if you have had a chance to see the BBC series from the 1990’s that was based on this novel, you may also appreciate that the story, as depicted there, has more than just one appeal – and I’ll have to leave it at that for now…
But ‘Pride and Prejudice’, those words as the title of Jane Austen’s famous novel, evokes a picture or a series of pictures, about a particular story, in which the main characters come to see, over time, how their pride and their prejudice change, almost to the opposite, because of their experiences with one another. In other words, it’s when they get behind the façade, behind the particular image of the person each is dealing with, that they begin to learn the truth, and find how it liberates them! What do we know about another person, if we’ve only just met them? How can we know another person, unless we spend time with them, make an effort to engage with their lives and their thinking, their experiences; whatever has made them the way they are. It’s probably why we now seem to have more and more prequels to certain TV series, to give us more of an insight into the characters.
In Jesus’ days, there were those who had studied Jewish writings, very thoroughly indeed. Those writings had, for a thousand years or more, spoken warmly about the wisdom of the wise. God gave wisdom to those who feared him; a long tradition of the study of Torah – the Jewish Law – and piety, indicated that those who devoted themselves to learning the law and trying to tease out its finer points would become wise, would ultimately know God. A small problem, of course, was that this level of study and knowledge was totally out of reach for the average person: as far out of reach in fact, as being a brain surgeon or a test pilot would be for most people today – no offense to those who are brain surgeons or test pilots. You needed to be a scholar, trained in languages and literature, with enough free time to muse and meditate, and to talk about the complicated matters at hand. A favourite pastime for some…
And then there’s Jesus. And what does Jesus do? Well, he has none of it! He slices through all those notions with a stroke. No, he declared, you just need to be a little child, not a scholar, to know God. Jesus had come to know his father in the manner every son or daughter does: not by studying books about him, but by living in his presence, listening for his voice, and learning from him like an apprentice does from a master: watching and imitating.
Jesus sees how the wise and learned were getting nowhere, really, and that the so-called ‘little people’, the sinners, the poor, the tax-collectors, the ordinary folk, were discovering more of God, simply by following him, Jesus, than the learned ‘specialists’, who declared that what he was doing wasn’t in line with their own theories about God.
Jesus, the Son, was like a window onto the living God, the Father. That’s why those who had ears to hear and eyes to see, were coming to know who ‘the Father’ really was.
‘Come to me, all you that are weary, and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’ The yoke of rules and regulations that the Pharisees and teachers of the law had been heaping on the people’s shoulders got them nowhere. But Jesus, who tells them that his yoke is easy, and his burden is light, offers them real hope. The yoke of mercy, and love, is liberating for all those who are struggling and weighed down by moral, physical, emotional, financial or any other burdens. Not because God heaps them on our shoulders – he doesn’t – but because God offers Jesus himself. He is our fellow yoke-bearer. Or, perhaps more precisely put, he carries not just our burdens, but ourselves with them. And then we find how our perception of God changes, the more we spend time with him. We get to know God as the Father, as he really is, because we are enabled to look behind the image that others may have given him, without really knowing him. [Back to that book:]
‘Good gracious!’, cried Mrs Bennett, as she stood at a window the next morning. ‘If that disagreeable Mr Darcy is not coming here again with our dear Bingley! What can he mean by being so tiresome as to be always coming here? I had no notion but he would go a shooting, or something or other, and not disturb us with his company. What shall we do with him? Lizzy, you must walk out with him again, that he may not be in Bingley’s way.’
If you know the story, you know how it ends. If you don’t know it yet, you may wish to read it now, and see how perceptions can change. And the same goes for the story of God. If you want to know it better, I’d encourage you to get into it, so that you may know and experience God’s loving grace in your life. Amen.