Matthew 11:15-19, 25-30; Romans 7:15-25a
Ordinary 14A; Proper 9
This week we are grateful to pastor John Wurster for providing a guest lectionary reflection.
In this week’s Gospel lesson, Jesus reflects on the tasks and challenges of discipleship — a balance between action and openness, between grasping truth and being grasped by grace.
Following in the way of Jesus is not easy. It’s hard work, wearying at times and even burdensome. Thankfully, the one who commissions us to serve also cares for us in all things. The call to discipleship includes an invitation to rest.
The passage begins with Jesus voicing lament over peoples’ reactions to him and his forerunner, John the Baptist. We hear Jesus’ disappointment, and we are left to wonder how our generation compares. Have we missed the moment, denied the truth, ignored the signs? Have we settled on platitudes, shirked responsibility, diverted our gaze? Have childish views led to immature expectations and simplistic categories? In their times, John the Baptist and Jesus were misunderstood and dismissed. Some thought John had a demon; some called Jesus a drunkard. Perhaps we are amused by those faulty conclusions, but are we really any more perceptive in these times? Can we discern the prophet’s voice? Can we hear John’s call for radical repentance and costly obedience? Can we follow in the Savior’s path? Can we look on the sorrow and the suffering? Can we bear witness to the truth when falsehoods fill the air? Can we cling to the cross when the ground beneath is shifting?
Lest we trust too much in our wisdom and intelligence, our reasoned thoughts and responsible plans, and lest we think that discipleship is only about taking the right action at the right time, Jesus points to an infant, helpless and dependent, as an image of a faithful life before God, suggesting that a humble posture is the means to discovering the fullness of the gospel. Our own abilities can only take us so far. Our vision is inevitably limited. We can’t seem to quite get it right (as Paul admits in the lesson from Romans). We can know a lot but still never be known. The wonder of God’s grace is that it embraces us before we can respond. Rather than be the object of our diligent searches, God moves first as the one seeking us before we can even start to look.
Holding the demands and the gifts of discipleship can be wearying. Trying to respond to the demands of the day while also being open to God’s gracious care is a difficult course. “Doing” and “being” are tricky to balance — all the more so when a pandemic has us shutting down and staying in, while the call for racial justice urges us to get up, get out and march. How can we be childlike in faith without being childish in our actions? Discipleship is hard work. Perhaps Jesus knew how we would struggle with these things. Perhaps that’s why this passage concludes with his generous invitation: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” This beautiful and promising verse weaves together three short but significant words: Come. All. Rest.
Come. The first word. It is the relentless invitation of God, who is always reaching out, always welcoming with open arms. Come. It is the word spoken by God throughout Scripture, all the way to Bible’s final paragraph: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come . . . [and] take the water of life as a gift” (Revelation 22:17). Come, let everyone come. Whoever we are, wherever we are, however we are, come. Come, even as we seek to discern the signs of the time. Come, even as we yearn to live responsibly in this moment. Come, even as we try to pay attention to what these days hold. Come, even as we admit our limitations. Come, even though our sins are many. Come, even as we attempt to open our hearts. The welcome of Jesus Christ is ever-extended. Come.
All. Not just some. Not just a few. Not just the qualified or the capable or the knowledgeable. But all. Those who do not do the good they want to do (Romans 7:2); those with scars; those with baggage. Those with questions; those with doubts; those with fears. Everyone is invited. Everyone is welcome. All. “Drink from it all of you,” Jesus says as he shares the cup with us (Matthew 26:27). “Come to me, all of you,” Jesus says, looking at us with love. All. It is the inclusive vision of the gospel. It is the small word that speaks to the bigness of the gospel and God’s ability to hold all of who we are. Come. All.
Rest. The final word in this sequence. Rest. It’s what Jesus offers in the end. Rest from the storms, from the stress, from the hazards and the hardships and the harrowing circumstances that are before us every day. Here is someone who seeks our good, who comforts our weariness and bears our burdens, who gives us shelter and safety. Companion and friend, Savior and Lord. Jesus does not offer us an exemption from pain and sorrow. But he does offer us himself, he offers us a presence, a knowing presence. For in him God knows what it is like to live and to love and to laugh and to weep and to ache and to die. Rest. Rest, knowing that God has overcome all things that would hurt or destroy. Rest, knowing we are loved. Rest, knowing, believing, trusting that in life and in death we belong to God. Rest. Be restored and renewed for what’s ahead as the journey continues. Come. All. Rest.
- How has your perception of Jesus changed over your life? What images of Jesus have become the most meaningful for you?
- Reflect on the end of Matthew 11:19: “Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” How do you hear that verse? Have you found it to be true?
- Jesus seems to suggest that the wise and the intelligent can miss out on the fullness of the gospel. What are the ways that we reason ourselves away from faith? What role can wisdom and intelligence have in the life of discipleship?
- What are the qualities of an infant that Jesus wants to lift up as he speaks about our response to God?
- How do you hear Jesus’ invitation to seek rest in him? What forms might that rest take? What might we gain from resting in Jesus?
- What can we learn by taking on Jesus’ yoke? How does his yoke differ from the burdens we carry?
JOHN WURSTER is pastor of St. Philip Presbyterian Church in Houston.
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