On my most recent trip to Africa, I ask one of my Ugandan friends why he never got angry at all the crazy taxi and boda boda drivers who are constantly cutting in front of us and hugging us out of our place. His response was simple: What will this change?”
A skillful question to be sure. One that finds deep resonance with me. On a practical level, I ask myself that questions every time I prepare a sermon or spiritual lesson. What will this change?
As I prepared the sermon for this past Sunday’s Collective Gathering, I found a deep resonance with Jesus who is speaking far more vociferously with his congregation than I have had to courage to do with mine. It is difficult to pin down the exact emotions Jesus is expressing, but I don’t think it a stretch to think they have a least a tinge of anger in them.:
Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you. Matthew 11:16-30
And then suddenly he changes direction. Matthew marks the change with a time check, “At that time Jesus said,…” (v. 21) Wouldn’t you love to ask Jesus what triggered the change? Do you think he noticed a change in the people to whom he was speaking? Did he suddenly realize that he was more worked up than he intended to be?
Whatever the reason, Jesus makes an abrupt shift and turns to a prayer of thanks to God for those who are able to hear and receive the message that he offers. Jesus makes it clear that revelation does NOT come to all. It comes only to those who have prepared themselves to receive it. “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.” (vv. 28-30)
I love what writer Alice Mackenzie writes about this verse: “To be told we can lay down our burdens sounds so sweet until we realize that, in Jesus’ eyes, many things we view as blessings are actually burdens. To those who view these things as their birthright and most cherished possessions, to be required to divest themselves of them sounds like sacrifice. And it is. But it is on the way to a life of being forgiven, being refreshed, and being empowered to live with the humility, discernment, courage, and compassion of Jesus.”
The proud and the arrogant, those who think they have all the answers, those who view themselves as self-made, will never see what the burdened and heavily laden ones will see and receive. There is something about the pain of living in this fallen world that tills the soil for the fertile seed of Jesus’ words. There is a way of living that lets us lay down old burdens but where those same burdens make and also heal us.
What did these words change?