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Pentecost 5 July 9, 2017 - The Rev. Samuel Torvend
Sermon for July 9, 2017 | Pentecost 5
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
I continue to be surprised when my millennial students tell me that they have never seen Francis Ford Coppola’s film, The Godfather. “You’ve missed this classic of American cinema?” I ask, and then plan a time when we can view it together. You might wonder: why push your students to watch a film that tells the story of an aging patriarch who presides over an organized crime dynasty as he transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son, a war hero? The answer rests, in part and underneath – underneath – today’s gospel reading.
Biblical anthropologists would have us recognize that the culture in which Jesus lived, in which he thought, preached, and acted was marked by one dominant social group – the extended family, a family that included friends and workers dependent on the generosity of the male leader, the patriarch, the patron. The mechanism that made this system work was patronage: if you pledge your loyalty and labor to the patron, you will receive benefits. It was a system robustly alive some 2000 years later in Coppola’s film, The Godfather, a film that could have easily been titled The Patron. It is a system still alive in our world today as political leaders, as patrons, bask in the fawning adoration of their political appointees, their dependent clients.
It should not surprise us, then, that Jesus would think of his heavenly father, the God of Israel, as his patron and the patron of all Israelites. After all, it was the God of Abraham and Sarah, hearing the cry of the Hebrews, enslaved and oppressed under Egypt’s pharaoh, who entered into a covenant marked by this agreement – I will be your god (your patron) and you shall be my people – an agreement made with a group considered to be social inferiors. Here, then, is where the cultural notion of patron – the mighty and frequently narcissistic male, surrounded by his musclemen, and his dependent, submissive women – begins to fall apart. For it appears that the God of Israel chooses to be the patron of those who are not highly valued by the society in which they dwell. I mean, honestly: in a contest between the two, would you really place your money on a group of weak and downtrodden slaves or the highly skilled and well-trained army of pharaoh, his muscle men? Thus, the unexpected surprise of the story when this group of apparent losers, guided by their patron’s pillar of fire and cloud, makes it safely into the experience of liberation, into an unexpected future brimming with blessing rather than curse.
And thus the surprise into today’s reading, when we hear that Jesus is criticized by religious leaders – the supposedly wise and intelligent – criticized as a drunkard and a glutton, as one who shares food and drink with tax collectors and sinners and by such sharing welcomes into himself their social status as inferiors. “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,” he prays, “because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” I thank you, the Patron of heaven of earth, because you have revealed yourself to the simple and the powerless, to those who are utterly dependent on you for life. No wonder the psalmist calls the God of Israel, the God of Jesus, the patron of the poor, the father of the orphan, the protector of the vulnerable, and the home of the abandoned (Psalm 68).
Having offered his listeners insight into God, the patron of those outside the safety nets and educational privilege of this world, Jesus invites his listeners to take his yoke upon themselves. Here Jesus echoes the invitation from Lady Wisdom in the Book of Sirach: “Draw near to me,” she says, “and dwell in my house of instruction … Put your neck under the yoke of Wisdom and let your souls receive instruction.” What is Wisdom but this: the union of knowledge with compassion for others. You may count yourself among the intelligent, but is the purpose of such intelligence to serve you alone? You may consider yourself compassionate, but if your compassion for others is not sustained by knowledge and understanding, what lasting good will you do? Wisdom says this: I will help you walk in the way of righteousness, and along the paths of justice (Proverbs 8).
You and I live in a church that invites us to “seek and serve Christ in all persons,” all persons – not just those who resemble us in our economic, educational, and social location. You and I live in a church that invites us to “strive for justice and peace among all people,” all people – not just those who share our ethnic, racial, national, or sexual orientation. You and I live in a church that invites, nay urges us, to “respect the dignity of every human being,” – not just those human beings our culture deems productive and thus valuable. You and I live in a church that invites us to receive the yoke, the Wisdom, of the One who was put to death because he so clearly and boldly expanded the circle of God’s love and justice: the One who has been raised by the power of God – not into the heavens – but into you and me so that God’s Wisdom might be vindicated in your deeds and mine.
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Jesus said to the crowd, “To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” At that time Jesus said, “I 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; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”