Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer... and then returned to the people with tenderness.

Yesterday at Eucharist I heard anew one of my favorite chapters in all of Scripture:  Matthew 11. Like most preachers and teachers, I have cherry-picked parts of this text to both illuminate my take on the call of Christ, and,to  fortify my prejudices. There is, of course, an upside and a downside to this practice. Positively, I have been able to emphasize the radical nature of God's grace - especially as articulated in 11: 28-30 - where Jesus says:  Are you tired? Burdened? Come to me I shall give ye rest. Negatively, I have not always done justice to the the context of this passage - and that's what was broken open for me yesterday as we discussed the fascinating wisdom and challenge of the story in Matthew 11.

+ First, John the Baptist wonders whether Jesus really IS the real deal.  In essence, the student takes on his mentor and replies to John's worries:  go and tell John what you see, ok? The blind see, the lame walk... the dead are raised and the wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side. There's no arguing with the facts on the ground and with this John recedes from the gospel story. 

+ Second, Jesus starts to rant - I'm not kidding - rant. First it is  about the dimness of his disciples but then he goes on about a number of other so-called faithful souls - who "are like spoiled children!" How can I account for this generation... they whine like spoiled children...they complain about John the Baptist being too ascetic and then carp about me being a party-boy lush. It is fascinating to me to see this in the Bible because it happens at clergy gatherings all the time.

+ Third, in Peterson's translation, "Jesus let fly on the cities where he had worked the hardest but whose people had responded the least." This is a rant beyond convention boundaries: Woe and doom to you all... just wait 'til Judgment Day comes. And then, out of the blue, we read rather "abruptly Jesus broke into prayer." It is  like the Holy Spirit grabbed him and shook some sense into him  because when the text resumes we're told "that Jesus returned to speaking to the people, but now tenderly." I guess he got it out of his system because after his prayer he said:

The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen. Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

Two quick thoughts about all of this:  1) It shows us something of the Lord's humanity for even Jesus can become blunt, exasperated and harsh while trying to figure out how to do ministry; and 2) the Holy Spirit works on Christ as she also works upon us: nourishing the very gifts of the Spirit that evoke and share tenderness in the flesh.  I am so glad the people at Eucharist asked me to explore the context of the story: it makes it even more wonderful. There is a humor and a humanity to Jesus that only becomes clear when real people gather to tease out the deeper truths. Thanks be to God.


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