By the Rev. Darren Miner
Though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong,
for the Lord holds us by the hand. –Psalm 37:24
Last Sunday, I visited my mother in Salinas, and I got the chance to spend some time with the children of my niece and of my two nephews. Sometimes, the little kiddies played nicely together, and sometimes, they did not. (I’ll spare you the sordid details!) Well, in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus compares the unresponsive leaders of Israel to squabbling little children who won’t play nicely together. Some want to play the “wedding game” and dance to the piping of a flute; others want to play the “funeral game” and wail. The result of their squabbling is that they don’t play any game at all!
John the Baptist came to call the people to fast and repent, and the elite of Israel were largely disapproving. They didn’t like that game! And they accused John of being crazy. Jesus came to call the people to rejoice at the wedding banquet of the Messiah. But many refused to RSVP to the party. They didn’t like that game any more than the first! And they accused Jesus of being a glutton and a drunkard. The moral of the story is that sometimes you just can’t win.
The lectionary skips the next five verses, in which Jesus sternly rebukes the towns and cities that refuse to respond to God’s call. And it takes up the story again with Jesus offering a prayer of thanksgiving to God. Now, his giving thanks to God is not particularly unusual, but the content of his prayer certainly is. Jesus thanks God for hiding his true identity as the Messiah from those who consider themselves wise and worldly and for revealing it to mere babies. Think about this for just a moment. First, Jesus compares those who do not respond to squabbling children; now, he calls those who do respond babies. Well, I can’t say that I like being called a baby, but it does make one thing perfectly clear: God does not reach out to us because we are particularly wise or intelligent, or rich or powerful, or successful or accomplished. He reaches out to us because we are as needy and vulnerable and dependent as little babies. When things are going well in our lives, we sometimes forget that fact. But when we are sick or depressed or in pain, then we remember.
Jesus goes on to make a radically bold claim about his relationship to God, a claim that distinguishes him from everyone else in the whole world: “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” This claim points us directly to the doctrine of the Incarnation. It tells us why Jesus was born, why he proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom of God, why he was willing to die on a cross: in order to reveal the Father. He lived and died to reveal the nature of God in a full and definitive way. And through Christ, the nature of God was revealed to be love.
Today’s Gospel reading ends with an appealing offer of rest for our souls. Jesus addresses the crowd and tells them that they too can be released from the heavy burdens placed on them by the Pharisees, who espoused a particularly rigorous and scrupulous interpretation of the Jewish Law. In its place, they are invited to yoke themselves with Jesus, to be his disciples, and to learn a less burdensome way to live a righteous life. Instead of having to keep 613 separate commandments, they need only keep two: love God and love your neighbor. There is no need for anything more. Yes, in a sense, Jesus is right; the two laws of love are easy—easy to remember! But living by the two laws of love, day in and day out, is not always so easy!
My niece’s youngest boy is just learning to walk. After taking a few steps, he gets scared and sits down. She will then let him hold onto one finger and try again to take a few steps. We are like that little baby. For like a little baby learning to walk, we stumble. Like a little baby, we get scared and decide to sit down. But God as revealed in Jesus Christ is a gentle, loving Father. When we end up sitting on the floor, afraid to take another step, he reaches out and takes us by the hand and helps us take just one more step, and then another, and another. And then, when we seem ready, he lets go of our hand, takes a few steps back, and urges us to come to him on our own two feet. And pretty soon, we find that we are no longer little babies who have to crawl on the floor, but toddlers, who at long last have learned to walk upright.
And so, we thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have revealed yourself to infants … and because you have lovingly and patiently taught us how to walk in love. Amen.
© 2017 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.