While Preparing for a sermon on Matt 11 at a time where I feel the weariness of the past weeks in my bones and I know that there is little or no rest in the near future, I found my mind playfully wondering into a stream of consciousness.
As a minister of religion I come face to face with mortality and death so often these days, so much of my work centers around helping people face the pain and sorrow of unresolved narratives in their lives. I also am faced with that lack of focus and resolution in my own life both personally and professionally.
As I read the words the gospel writer Matthew places in the mouth of Jesus in this passage:
“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
“‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”
I feel the weight of these words in my life today and find myself immersed in this narrative attributed to Jesus. There is no way to win for a minister today caught between well meaning people trying to keep faith by holding to tradition and religious practice and people trying to find hope and meaning through freedom and playfulness. How do I prepare the way for such divergent needs, when neither pipe and dance nor dirge and morning will satisfy?
As I watch the clip here from Godspell(1973) My heart is lifted as I hear the call go out across the city and the people abandon the structures that hole them in place to frolic in the fountain with sheer playfulness. How I long to hear such a call and drop all the important things I am doing for a moment of sheer playful pleasure in community. I also imagine how easy it would be to judge people engaged in such activity and condemn them for their frivolous action after all there is work to be done and tasks to perform. O how I long for God’s wisdom to carry me off and to feel her take my hand releasing me from obligation.
In the narrative then, as today, Jesus expresses this tension between the weight of the urgency of the ministry before him and the desire to be in love with the road we are called to walk upon. In this part of the story we hear Jesus wrestling with task and truth as he gives voice to the frustration and apparent fruitlessness of his ministry. I could not help when reading again in this year A cycle of the lectionary to mischievously exclaim “there’s no pleasing some people” as the mythical Brain does in the Monty Python film that bears his name. Like the Leper we can often find that even the miracles that occur around us create further burden for us to carry as we move along the road of our calling.
In frustration Jesus lets fly at the towns that have been happy to take the miracles and events but are unmoved to allow such moments to take hold of them in the form of any real change in their lives (the lectionary reading conveniently leaves out this rant). Identifying with Matthew’s Jesus, here I recall all the placements that have ended because I was either to “churchy” or not “churchy” enough. There is no pleasing some people!
Most preachers will probably ignore the exasperated yet very human Jesus and rush to the comforting worlds at the end of the narrative:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Being a lover of pop culture I found my self wondering if the passage taken as a whole might be more akin to the 1976 song by the Band Kansas “Carry on Wayward Son”. As the words echo in my mind I wonder if the writer of the song has this mood of Jesus found in Matt 11 in mind. As I wriggle down this rabbit hole of consciousness I find myself daydreaming of the calling and Journey of the brothers Winchester from the series Supernatural. Together on there calling to confront evil in the world and bring light to darkness they frolic their way crossing boundaries of law and decency in this thankless task. The song in the series is very familiar because its the theme song (not by Sturgil Simpson) is almost a Paraphrase of the Matthew narrative and I can imagine Jesus singling the Verses and a voice from heaven replying with the chorus:
“Carry on, my wayward son
There’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more”
Perhaps I call out the same prayerful verses and I might be lucky enough the hear such a blessing from God…