July 3, 2011, Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
July 3, 2011
Dave Beuerman

Key quotes for today. First few are from MT 11; the last is, well, seasonally appropriate.

“among those born of women no one has arisen greater than [JtB]”

“John came neither eating nor drinking … they say [of JC] … a glutton and a drunkard”

“you [The Father] have hidden these things from the intelligent”

“no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him”

”For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Forbes: “The middle class has disappeared. Many of the millions of jobs lost … I don’t think are coming back.”

Today’s Gospel reading comes from Chapter 11 of Matthew; this is a very RED chapter. Not in terms of politics; I would have no problem with that sort of politics. Not in terms of finance; being in the red is always troubling. But in the sense of red PRINT, indicating the actual words of Jesus. Chapter 11 is mainly just that, Jesus speaking. It turns out to be a bit of a hodge-podge or a smorgesbord, today’s selection as much as any. It includes some quite puzzling sayings of Jesus, which cry out for attention.
In verses 16 – 19 and even before, John the Baptizer is mentioned. Jesus says of him, “No greater figure than JtB has ever emerged in history.” How would you like to attach that to your resume?! But this is also a puzzle: greater than Jesus, also born of woman (you may recall)? The only sense I can make out of that is, “up to now.” Also, Jesus says that JtB came not eating or drinking, and that He (i.e., Jesus) was seen as a glutton and drunk. The point of this is that folks who do not want to hear will always find some excuse!
Verses 25 – 27, the next segment, poses several puzzles, including do we have to check our minds at the church door? Isn’t the problem here mainly one of intellectual pride? Newton, one of the great figures in the history of science, remarked that whatever folks thought of him, he saw himself as a boy playing on the beach, finding, from time to time, the odd pretty stone – such as Newton’s Second Law of Motion, perhaps! In just the same way, the Saints show remarkable modesty. They know they don’t know it all! AND: we are told to love the Lord our God not only with our heart and soul but also with OUR MIND (MT 22:37, LK 10 : 27, ETC!)
Our minds as well as our ears must be open; more to the point, we must open them. And, of course, that means that we must be open to God. And that is done through prayer.
Another problem posed by this segment is: is Jesus the only way to God? Note that this is much more than can a non-Christian find the Truth through Jesus? The Hindu Gandhi gave a resounding yes to that! But has the Delai Lama not found God? That he would not use that language is not the point. Billy Graham once said that Jesus is NOT the only way; many Christians said that this was a very sad day. On the contrary, I think that most of us would think that Billy had it right. The idea of Christian exceptionalism – which really finds no justification here in any case — has caused many problems and continues to do so, forming the basis of the religious intolerance which seems so ubiquitous in today’s world. As well as Christian exceptionalism, we have American exceptionalism, another problem; among other things, this masks political and social reality.
Next we have v. 28 – 30, the final segment, in which we learn from Jesus that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. This is very comforting, but is it true? Or, rather, in what sense is it true? For many years I have looked for confirmation of my answer to that. I finally found it in a recent issue of America, the Jesuit magazine, in which we read, “Gospel love is not easy to do, but is quite simple to understand.” Just so, Jesus’ message of non-violence is simple to understand but difficult to practice; so we don’t hear it.
Which brings us to that great patriotic holiday, the 4th of July. What is a Christian who loves his country to think of it, always at war, even at wars? And we now have in addition the war on the middle class and the war on the elderly, not to mention the on-going counterproductive war on drugs. I think that we can only revert to “my country, right or wrong,” with the important add-on, “when it is wrong, change it.” That won’t be easy with so much money and propagandizing on the other side, but non-violent change in the spirit of Jesus Christ IS always possible! And, yes, we will need our minds in the process. A great song for the 4th of July is “This Is My Song (Finlandia by Sibelius).” I’ll close with verse one of that, but first a word from our sponsor, the Kingdom of Heaven, which is also another puzzle.
Earlier in MT 11, when speaking of JtB, Jesus mentions the Kingdom of Heaven, which we have begun to re-learn is not just another place, another time. THAT world (The Kingdom of Heaven) is a world living in accordance with Jesus’ teachings of love and non-violence. THAT world is already here if we recognize it, claim it, become it. THIS world suffers from those who do not hear and do not try to live it. They do it violence and they do God violence.
And now for the musical moment you all have been waiting for!
You know, when you think of it, this speaks against exceptionalism of all
This is my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
But other hearts in other lands are beating
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.