A sermon preached by Graham Low on Wednesday 7th December
Some of the most moving tributes I have heard at funerals have been given by sons speaking about their fathers. These included stories of intimacy that were sometimes profoundly moving. The passage we have just heard reveals something of the same intimacy as Jesus speaks of the one he calls father. It seems clear that he alone knew things which only he could talk about. As Jesus announced God’s kingdom of love, revealed in healing, forgiving, and bringing about new life, he must have been aware that many of those he met did not have the same awareness of his father as he did. He must have known that from an early age he was in some way different: he knew what Israel’s God was like, and what he desired for his people.
When Jesus spoke of God’s kingdom he aroused opposition from religious people in particular. The direct challenges he made caused many people alarm: often he was either resisted outright, or excuses were made for not following him. Opposition grew. But there were moments when he saw with great clarity how his father was working.
The wider context of this passage from Matthew is concerned with the contrast between faith and unbelief, a contrast which abounds in scripture. Biblical writers do not say that the gift of belief is entirely in our own hands, but rather that it is a gift from God. They also point out that to disbelieve is also an action of God. Thus in the verses immediately before today’s we hear that God hides the coming of the kingdom from some but reveals it to others. But these actions of God are not capricious or unrelated to human lives. Matthew notes that God hides the truth from the wise and understanding, that is to say from those who in arrogance or pride refuse to repent. Instead, the truth is revealed to babies, that is to the humble and lowly. Jesus is thankful that this is the will of God, and he tells his hearers that he is revealing the law and he invites the oppressed to believe in him, to learn his new law and so to enter the kingdom. His law is not difficult, unlike that of the scribes and Pharisees, but easy to learn. It is the law of Love. This puts him in direct and scandalous opposition to those pious academics who for centuries had come to believe that detailed study of the Torah was the way to know God. Jesus says to them: no, you need to be like a child who knows what his father wishes, not by reading books but by watching him, living in his presence, listening to him and imitating him. The complicated theories of the academics are not the way to God. So people begin to realise that Jesus has the gift of drawing back the curtain and unveiling the truth about God, in a dramatic way.
It must seem quite daunting for Jesus’ followers to be told that the true God could only be known through him. But because of the kind of person he is, it gives him a platform to issue a profoundly powerful and indeed wonderful invitation. “come to me and I’ll give you rest”. The Pharisees had often spoken of people being called to bear the heavy yoke of the Torah, the Jewish Law, with all its often negative commandmants. Here Jesus is offering his followers and, he offers us, a completely different “yoke” which comes from his mercy and his love and so is simple and easy to bear.
His listeners must have wonder how following Jesus can be so easy. Jesus says that following him means leaving family and possessions behind. But the ease, joy and refreshment that he offers come from his inner gentleness and warmth of character. This is offered to all who turn to him, weighed down by burdens which could be moral, physical, emotional, or financial. When Jesus says that he is gentle and humble of heart, he is not boasting that he has an extraordinary level of spiritual achievement. He will not stand over us like a fierce policeman, or be cross like an angry schoolteacher. Instead, he welcomes those who abandon themselves to his mercy, the welcome that God offers through him. His invitation made to us again this morning is one of pulling back the curtain to let us see who God is and to encourage us into his loving and welcoming presence. Amen.