This week’s gospel breaks cleanly into two parts: the believing part and the acting part. Jesus first addresses belief and the obstacles to belief. And as with most social pathology since time began, pride proves to be the prime impediment to belief. So Jesus quickly cuts it down to size… and prescribes his simple formula for the good life… so simple that the worldly wise still haven’t figured it out.
Biblical scholars over the years have labored long and hard to wring original intent out of every word in scripture as it made its way from Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek to contemporary usage. What is even more difficult to capture is the inflection with which these words were delivered. It’s difficult, but not impossible. You can almost hear the irony in Christ’s voice as he refers to the “wise and learned,” those who blithely reject the salvation he so clearly lays before them. The British would say they are: “Too clever by half.” We would call them: “Know-it-alls.” They are people who by dint of their intellectual pride deny themselves the gift of God’s grace.
You can almost hear their reaction to Jesus: “Please don’t bother me with this ‘blessed are the meek’ mumbo jumbo. And love your enemies? Have you ever heard such nonsense? And if you’re so smart why are you hanging out with these losers… the poor, the sick, the sinners.” For the egotist, the hedonist, the “wise and learned,” Jesus never made much sense and never will.
But as a psychoanalyst would say: “How’s that working out for you?” You may be an accomplished intellectual acrobat. You may think you have your world by the tail. You and your ego may make a lovely contented couple. But God constantly confounds conventional wisdom. It turns out we really don’t know it all. Pleasure proves illusory. The things we own really own us. Power breeds corruption. And fame is always an unfaithful mistress. Jesus tells us: there is a better way… Follow him. His way is a life of humble, loving service. It is a totally counter-intuitive. It flies in the face of the world, the flesh and the devil. It turns our pride on its head. And it tells us that our clever values are worse than worthless. They are toxic. But, not to worry, Jesus has the antidote.
Love of God and love of neighbor: it’s not clever; it’s not complicated. But, in words familiar to those in recovery: It works if you work it. And if you really work it… if you make it your life… it opens you up, it makes you receptive to the grace of God. And that is a power that dwarfs any reason, any appetite, any improvement regimen or preservation instinct. How much proof do you need? Jesus could not put it any plainer: 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.
It doesn’t take a genius to see God’s hand in this. But it does take an open heart. It does take a will to believe. Galileo, Newton, even Einstein: they were all believers. They all saw God’s hand in the order of the universe. Christ bids us to bring this order into the chaos of our lives. As a flower turns to the sun, as a newborn to mother’s milk, we are drawn to God through the love and the sacrificial life of Jesus Christ. Accept him. Embrace him as your Savior. Trade a clever life for a committed one; a grasping life for a giving one; a short troubled, tattered life for a blessed, brand new, eternal one: For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. It’s the best offer you’re ever going to get. Take it and run with it.
The Reverend David Sellery, Author, Resource Creator and Retreat Leader. Committed to a vocation that focuses on encountering God in the midst of everyday life, I serve as an Episcopal priest who seeks to proclaim the good news of God in Christ in worship, pastoral care, education, stewardship, congregational development and community outreach, while continually engaging our wider culture with dynamism and hope.