PRAYER: Jesus, our burdens weigh us down. We need a rest; we need a break. And now, you come and tell us that we should take on your yoke, but we don’t need or want another burden. The difference is though that your burden is light. The difference is that with you, hope is restored, we no longer need to be constantly struggling, beating our heads against the wall in no-win scenarios. Remind us once again that your Father has handed all things over to you and that we should take on your yoke because your burden truly is light.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Have you ever had that experience where you feel like you just can’t win no matter what you do? There’s an old running joke in my marriage that started years ago when we were painting a room in our apartment. We were on opposite sides of the room, and we each had our own tray of paint and a roller. On my side of the room, I had the can of paint, and as Anna’s tray was getting low, she asked me to bring her the can of paint. So I put down my roller and brought the can of paint over to the other side of the room. As I walked back to the other side, she stood there looking at me incredulously. She asked me why I didn’t pour the paint into her tray. I responded that she didn’t ask me to pour the paint. She asked me to bring the paint, which I did. I maintain, to this day, that if I had poured the paint into her tray without her asking, she would have said that she didn’t want me to do that, she only wanted me to bring it. It’s a no-win scenario. I assure you that our marriage continues to survive in spite of that moment more than three decades ago. But I am obligated to tell you that since Anna had chemo this past week, she is unable to come here and give her side of the story, but believe me: she has her side of the story!
There are unnumerable situations in life in which it seems like no matter what you do, you just can’t win. Not all of them are as petty or humorous as pouring paint into a paint tray. Jesus’ statement in verse 17 is his way of saying, “you know, we just can’t win with you people.” ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ John the Baptist came and he was stoic and disciplined. He did not indulge in drinking; he didn’t eat to excess and the elite leaders of the temple accused him of having a demon. Along came Jesus who drank, indulged in big dinners with his friends, he was a friend of tax collectors and sinners and they called him a glutton and drunkard. Jesus was criticizing the temple leaders who refused to respond to the real life needs of the people, and instead looked to condemn anyone who didn’t toe the line of their self-indulgent standards. Jesus was looking at this and saying, “I can’t win with these people.”
Jesus is pointing to this time-honored method of deflection: blame everyone else. You can’t win with those people who are determined to blame everyone else for whatever’s wrong. There’s no problem with the temple; John the Baptist has a demon. There’s nothing to see here; Jesus is a drunk. Jesus is a friend to sinners. It doesn’t matter what anyone says about the temple, the leaders will find a way to deflect and blame. You just can’t win with them.
It would not be very difficult… in fact, it’s downright simple to point to current-day examples of this everywhere we look. It’s on social media; get into an argument on social media and you can’t win. It’s on the news; our politicians are masterful at this kind of deflection. I’ve known parents who blame their kids’ teachers for failing grades; it can’t possibly be my little angel that didn’t study… that didn’t do the homework. It’s the teacher’s fault. I don’t know about your parents, but my parents certainly never blamed my teachers for my low grades. That was all my fault in their eyes!
We see this in the Church today as well. We want to blame everyone and everything for why church attendance is down all over the world. I’ve heard them all. People want to blame the popularity of youth soccer. That’s probably the most popular target. They want to blame culture, or the music, or the presence of TV preachers. I have even been blamed myself for the global church’s decline. Some say the church is in decline because it’s too judgmental, while others say that the church is in decline because it’s not judgmental enough. Can’t win!
Jesus’ words are not meant to express endless frustration. They are an invitation for us to see those excuses for what they are and to look beyond them and seek new life through him. When we get caught up in those no-win scenarios, it becomes so easy to just give up. We throw our hands up and say, “What’s the use of struggling anymore, we just can’t win.”
That’s why, after expressing his judgement toward those temple elite, he pivots and invites us into new relationship with him, into new life with him. He thanks God for those temple elites that are kept in darkness because it makes the contrast of the light he is offering all the more pronounced. “No one knows the Son except the Father. And no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wants to reveal him.”
Those temple elites were the ones who sat around the temple debating the Torah and they were the ones who generally would interpret that sacred text in whatever way benefited them most. They were the ones that the people looked to in order to understand God, and they were the same ones who manipulated those people. Jesus is reminding us here that being faithful is not the same as knowing about God. The temple leaders knew all about God. Being faithful is about living the fullness of life.
We are invited into that life of faith, of knowing the Son, of taking on the yoke of Christ that Jesus tells us the burden is light.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I look at a yoke – there’s a picture of one on the cover of your bulletin – that does not look like an easy burden to me. In the first century… in fact in this century, a yoke is a device that has not changed very much. It is the heavy crossbar laid across the necks of oxen to force them to drag farm equipment through the field. It seems like a terribly difficult task to use one. Make no mistake: Jesus is speaking to a population that is severely over-worked and carrying heavy burdens themselves. They understood the symbolism here. In first-century Israel, the overwhelming majority of the population was poor people facing both political and religious oppression.
We are encouraged to take up Jesus’ yoke and “learn” from him. The “yoke” of Jesus is to learn his Way and follow it. The Way of Jesus is about open table fellowship. It’s about lifting one another up and supporting the poor. It’s about caring for the sick and the oppressed; it’s about not seeing people who aren’t like us as enemies. This way of Jesus will set us on a path of true life. The way of Jesus enables us to lift others up and then, by doing so, being lifted up ourselves.
The way of Jesus is not a no-win scenario. When we give up our preconceived notions that the Pharisees and temple leaders would have us believe, we may find that living a life of faith is harder than we realize, but it is a way… THE way of having our burdens lightened. It is the way of receiving grace and being empowered to rest in Jesus’ arms.
The notion of taking on Jesus’ yoke is a notion of kindness, of being tenderhearted. Taking on Jesus’ yoke does not mean that life is free of pain or hardship. But it does enable us to avoid the no-win scenario by seeing our faith from a different vantage point. When we view our faith as a task, or as a set of policies and procedures that we have to follow, we lose. When we think of our faith in the same way we think of our careers or our chore list… as something that we have to accomplish and check off a list, we lose. When we think of our faith as a way of getting ahead in life and being better than other people, we lose.
It leads us to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called costly grace. It is costly because it costs a person their life, and it is grace because it gives a person the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘You were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
I want to invite you to come and receive grace. Yes, faith is hard, but come and receive grace, and defeat the no-win scenario. Come and receive grace and learn what it means to stand in solidarity with those who are burdened. Come and receive grace and offer hope – the hope that stands in stark contrast to the no-win situation. You don’t have to hold onto those things that burden you down. You don’t have to cling to the need to do everything, to own everything, to be responsible for everything. Come take on the yoke of Jesus and be find the rest that he offers you. Find the rest that Jesus offers when we share God’s grace, when we offer hope, when we love as Jesus loves.
There are plenty of situations in our lives which may appear to be no-win scenarios. Some are serious – life and death, while others involve cans of paint being carried across a room. We can get so caught up in them that we lose sight of the freedom that comes with Jesus’ yoke. I want to invite you to recommit yourselves to taking on Jesus’ yoke and releasing your burdens to him. Whatever it is that burdens you, whether it’s your insatiable need to get everything on your to do list accomplished, or your desire to keep all of your troubles bottled up so as not to worry anyone else, Jesus offers you rest; Jesus offers you hope. Jesus offers you a win.
To God be the glory.