Matthew 11: 16-19; 28; Romans 7: 15, 16
If it isn’t one thing, it’s the other
In Matthew Jesus brings up one problem and in Romans Paul brings up another. First, Jesus tackles the issue that you just can’t make some people happy. Sometimes we try to be helpful, but it is misinterpreted or considered too little, too late. Sometimes we should have stayed out of things altogether. Second, Paul brings up the problem that he is not happy with what he himself does. So Jesus talks about people being disappointed in us and Paul addresses the problem of us humans being disappointed in ourselves. Jesus roughly quotes people complaining: “We played the flute for you and you didn’t dance…..John the Baptist came neither eating or drinking, and they say ‘he has a demon;’ the Son of Humanity (i.e. Jesus) came and they say, ‘look a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” In others words, these people complain that the ones associated with Jesus, including Jesus Himself, do not do what others do. Can’t make them happy. We know that feeling.
Friends, in his letter to the Romans Paul again looks deep inside his soul only to find out that he wants to be what God expects of him, but his flaws make him “do the things he doesn’t want to do.”
So much of our lives, friends, is spent on doing what people expect of us or ask of us. So much energy is spent on what people are thinking of us. And so much time is spent on being disappointed with ourselves. And these things are intertwined. What we do and what people complain about influence each other. Sometimes we’re not even sure why we do what we do. So often we twist ourselves in knots to try to accommodate to some vague or unreasonable expectation. We then, to quote Paul, “do what we do not want to do.”
Now you may think: “ah he is telling us to be assertive and put our foot down and let people know we are in charge of our own lives.” No, not exactly. What I want to do is point you to a number of verses in today’s lectionary reading in Mathew’s Gospel and soak up the words of Jesus:”Come to me, all you are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” In the next verse He is more specific:”rest for your souls.” What I want do is draw a connection between the complaints others have about us, real or imagined, and finding rest for our souls. I think this is crucial you see. Assertiveness only goes so far, it is really just a technique and in our complex that often just doesn’t work. No we have to go deeper than that. Finding rest for our souls, what is that about then? And how does that help us with the opinions of others? Well, it has to do with letting go, letting go of the demands. It has to do with accepting ourselves as flawed, limited individuals who happen to have specific gifts and talents, but perhaps not the ones people expect of us. It has to do with loving ourselves, not because we are great, for we are not, but because we are deeply loved by the Creator. But we have trouble really connecting with that love, for it is in our head, but we haven’t quite absorbed it. It doesn’t quite get from our heads down to our heart or to our gut. “God loves us, yeah ok, I know, what am I making for dinner?” We must continue trying to connect with that love. I myself haven’t given up trying. The more we are connected to that love, the less we will need the approval of others, the more we are changed. Religious author Brian Doyle who passed away just a month or so ago-which is a great loss- wrote of a profound spiritual experience he once had and the consequences it had. The experience changed him but also kept things in place. This is what he said: “Let it go. I still have a job and kids and my mysterious wife and a bad back and a nasal mutter and too many bills, nothing’s changed outwardly. I didn’t drop everything and hit in the road hunched over and mooing prayer and song, and there are still all sorts of things quietly muddled and loudly screeching in my life…(but) something broke and something healed… But then he talks about how God intimately knows us and he says:” Whatever else you hear today, whatever else you read, whatever else happens in your life, whatever way your heart is bruised and elevated today, remember that.” (Let in go,” in “best Spiritual Writing 2013, p.8/9, Philip Zaleski ed., New York: Penguin, 2012). The key is understanding that God truly knows us. Friends, the road to authentic living that moves us away from the expectations of others about who we should be and the focus on our own disappointments with ourselves, that road leads through the keen realization of God’s love for us. Only then will we find rest from the heavy burdens of the mind and the heart. Thanks be to God.