Sermon preached 9/10/2011 at Burke UMC Lifesign Service
Text: Matthew 11:28-30 (as well as selections throughout Matthew 11)
What makes you weary? I get weary every time I look at the kitchen sink. In the division of labor in our household chores, the sink is mine. But I’m so weary when I look at it that I just put another plate inside. And then the plates start to come out of the sink onto the counter, and that makes me wearier. It usually has to get really bad before my frustration overcomes my weariness and I actually do something about it.
Weary is an interesting word. It’s not just tired; it’s more than tired. It’s from the same word we use to talk about wearing clothes. To be weary is like being a shirt that you’ve worn so much it’s got holes. Weariness suggests the kind of tired that you get with doing the same thing over and over with very little progress: the same arguments, the same dumb jokes, the same wrong turns. Whenever I go to DC, if I’m driving in a certain part of town, I always end up going the wrong way on New York Avenue and I try to turn off, but because of the one-ways, I go in a circle and I remember that I did the same exact thing the last time! That makes me weary. Being tired is one thing; being discouraged is another; being weary is when you reach the point of saying, I’m done.
The thing that’s interesting about our scripture today is that Jesus invites weary people to find their rest in Him immediately after sharing some things that indicate He’s weary too. People didn’t exactly welcome Jesus with open arms everywhere He went. Even His own cousin John the Baptist wasn’t sure that He really was the Messiah. John was the one who baptized Jesus, who saw the skies open up and the Holy Spirit come down while a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.” But in the beginning of Matthew 11, John sends His disciples to Jesus to ask if He’s really the One or if they should wait for someone else. So Jesus says to them in verses 4-6: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed… And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” That last line is edgy. The fact that Jesus answers John indirectly suggests that He’s miffed to have to answer this question at all.
And Jesus’ cousin isn’t the only one who’s been doubting Him. Jesus shares that He’s been going around to all these Galilean towns like Chorazim and Bethsaida and nobody takes Him seriously. Jesus even goes off on Capernaum, which was the hometown of his right-hand man Simon Peter and all his fishing buddies and the home-base for Jesus’ Galilean ministry. In verses 23-24, Jesus says to Capernaum, “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.” Y’all remember Sodom, right? The city that God burned up with fire and brimstone for being so evil. When Jesus makes this kind of comparison, it sounds like a weary Messiah blowing off some steam.
In verses 16-17, Jesus explains that the people He’s been trying to reach are “like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’” Back in the day (long before X-Box), kids in the Galilean marketplace had nothing better to do so they would throw pretend weddings and funerals in the street. But sometimes they couldn’t even do that if they spent all day arguing about whether to play the wedding flute or sing the funeral dirge. This is how the Galilean people have been treating Jesus and His cousin John. Check out verses 18-20. Since John the Baptist was a desert hermit who “came neither eating nor drinking,” the haters all said, “He must have a demon,” and didn’t listen to him. Then when Jesus, the Son of Man, who partied with sinners, “came eating and drinking,” the haters said, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors!”
Jesus was a weary messiah. People were playing gotcha with Him the same way they do with any public figure today. They didn’t like what He had to say, so they came up with excuses to blow Him off, saying, “Didn’t you have a beer in your hand at the home of Levi the tax collector?” or “Who are those sketchy women you’ve been letting rub oil on your head?” Jesus got rejected by a lot of people who thought they had it all together and who responded to any challenges He made to the way that they were living by finding something to criticize about Him.
But even as Jesus was getting rejected by so many people, He knew it was part of God’s plan. Check out what He says in verse 25: “Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” People who think they’re wise and intelligent often end up being haters who don’t get it. It’s the people who know that they’re infants compared to the wisdom of God who do get it.
So when Jesus says, “Come to me, you who are weary and carry heavy burdens; I will give you rest,” there’s a deeper truth beneath His words. We can’t get the rest that Jesus has to offer unless we know that we’re weary. Jesus didn’t say, “Come to me, you who are relaxed and confident,” because people who are carrying around the heavy burden of pretending to be relaxed and confident are never going to allow themselves to receive the rest that our Messiah has to offer.
They might accept Jesus’ salvation as a sort of notch in their belts. They might read their Bibles every day to find even more affirmations of how they’ve always been right. But if you never admit that you’re weary, then you’re never going to find the rest that Jesus has to offer. Jesus says that His rest involves wearing a yoke. It’s a light yoke, but it is a yoke, which means that we don’t get to pretend like we’re independent and self-sufficient any more once we accept Jesus as Lord. If you think about it, wearing a yoke is silly-looking, kind of like back in the day when orthodontists used to make patients wear headgear. Anybody ever have to go through that? The yoke was a common image used by rabbis in Jesus’ day. Having a teacher in that day was not like today where you have many teachers and professors and you don’t usually take them all that seriously. In Jesus’ time, if you became a rabbi’s disciple, you were submitting yourself to that teacher’s authority and putting their yoke around your neck like an ox.
But Jesus says that He’s not like other rabbis. His yoke is light because He’s gentle and humble in heart, and there’s a way in which His yoke is gentleness and humility, because when we take on Jesus’ yoke and learn from Him, that means we’re trying to become like Him. It means that we can no longer be cocky and condescending towards others, because that’s not how our Messiah is. Jesus is not like Dr. Sloan on Grey’s Anatomy who hits on his interns and makes them buy him cappuccinos. Jesus shares the yoke that He gives to us; He carries a cross so that we can take up our own crosses and follow Him. He’s not a rock-star messiah; he’s a weary messiah who let Himself be rejected by the world so that He could be the Messiah of the rejected.
Now understand this: you can only take on the yoke of the weary Messiah if you stop acting like you’re comfortable and confident and perfect. Let yourself be weary; don’t weigh yourself down with the burden of pretending not to have burdens. Because if you’re thirsty, there is living water for you to drink. If you’re hungry, there is a life of discipleship that can be your food. If you’re weary, there is a journey of incredible meaning that will give you rest and make your yoke feel light. If you’re ready to stop pretending, there’s a way, a truth, and a life for you. His name is Jesus.