“Does Jesus Get Your Goat?”
Jesus starts out today with a bite to his reaction to how people perceive him. The gospel text is divided into two parts as you can see. In the earlier section Jesus is addressing the way in which his message and his ministry has been received – those who are whining and finding fault with this one who has been built up to be the messiah yet seems to fall so short according to what the people’s expectations are. They had seen John the Baptist as a wild man with strange behaviors, who now is imprisoned. And they are upset with Jesus because they thought the one who was coming would not be one hanging out with the outcasts and dregs of life – tax collectors and sinners. With John’s arrest and Jesus’ really stepping into the light of who Jesus truly is, we get an opportunity to hear him talk things over with God, the one who sent him. In his prayer, he appears to be relating to God, his Father as one who sees what it is he is called to be about, and that it’s an inside thing between God and Jesus. There are things he knows that even the other religious leaders seem to have no insight or awareness of. There are things about his Father that, for some reason, only he seemed to know, and only he, Jesus, could tell. This seems to be a deep mystery as that community and now we as readers and listeners and followers are invited into. Who is this Jesus? What does it mean to be Jesus? Who is this that announced that God’s Kingdom is at hand?
How challenging it must have been for him to realize that those he may have hoped would understand seem to be the ones who don’t get it and, worse yet, they seem to challenge everything he says or does. The Pharisees and scribes prided themselves in their long tradition of Torah study and in what they believed was an accomplished wisdom, trained in languages and literature, far beyond the common person of the day. Yet they lorded this over the people, like a burden or a heavy yoke of the Torah, rather than putting it into practical terms and going even further by putting these words into deeds that served the ordinary folks and the under-privileged, practiced mercy and justice. It would seem that Jesus comes to understand that in God sending him to be the Word made flesh, he is the way that others will come to really know God – not just the Law, but to know God’s love and grace. But we don’t like being told to do. We had an expression in my growing up days that went like this: “Doesn’t that just get your goat?” By that, we meant, “Doesn’t that just irritate you to no end … or worse?” Well, doesn’t Jesus sometimes get your goat? Doesn’t Jesus irritate you? Aren’t there times when you feel like Jesus is just asking too much? We were going along, and then in drops Jesus and expects something of us …. Challenges us to go out of our comfort zone for the sake of God’s mission – serving others, loving people we don’t think we want to love. Doesn’t that just get your goat?
Then we come to this wonderful invitation. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” Come to me, Jesus says. Are you having a real struggle? Are you carrying a big load on your back? I found a legend, and whether it’s true or not perhaps doesn’t matter; I think it gives some insight into what this yoke means. The legend says that perhaps during the years that we don’t hear about Jesus’ work prior to his coming into his ministry, that Jesus was one of the master yoke-makers in the Nazareth area. People came from miles around for a yoke to be hand carved and crafted by Jesus, son of Joseph. When customers arrived with their team of oxen, Jesus would spend considerable time measuring the team, their height, the width, the space between them, and the size of their shoulders. Within a week, the team would be brought back and he would carefully place the newly carved yoke over their shoulders, watching for rough places, smoothing out the edges and fitting them perfectly to this particular team of oxen.
When I was really little, we still had draft horses on our farm that had been used for field work. They weren’t “pleasure” horses, but working horses. Patsy and Trixie were often paired together, although Patsy would also work with Ted, but Trixie was not an all-around team player. When they heard the harnesses being readied, their ears perked up and they knew that there was work to be done. They donned their collars and the reins were hooked up and drawn across their backs and they were led into place of the riggings that would hold the connecting bars that pulled the plow, wagon, sled, or whatever was to be hitched up. They shared the work, the task to be done while they were hitched – or yoked together – it was what they were born to do. It wasn’t quite the same as the yoke image, but it helps create an image of sharing the load or the work to be done.
The yoke Jesus invites us to take is like that. It’s not about taking on additional baggage and burdens. It’s talking about what Jesus calls us to do is something that we are well fitted for, tailor-made for us – taking into account our special talents, things that we are born with, skilled at, have natural tendencies for. And what Jesus calls us to, he also partners with us in doing. Jesus promises to be present – in it with us, sharing the load. The yoke Jesus invites us to take, the yoke that brings rest to weary souls, is one that is made exactly to our lives and hearts. It fits us well, does not rub us or cause us to develop sore spirits. It is designed for two, and Jesus is our pulling partner. Life isn’t promised to be an easy street existence, but Jesus lives up to his name, Immanuel, God with us. He promises to lovingly be present in everything we are and in everything we do. When we encounter those who think we’re a strange lot for serving others, working for justice for the disenfranchised, feeding the hungry, tending to the sick and bereaved, giving cups of cold water to the “little folks” in life – it is Jesus who is there with us feeding, healing, tending to and listening to those who need what we have been given by the Father. What Jesus is trying to do is move us from where we are to where God wants us to be. We were born to carry out God’s mission in our daily lives.
Jesus Christ is our burden bearer. Jesus Christ is the one who shows us who God the Father is. He shows us in his humble servant way. He shows us in his love for us. “Come … Come to me.” Jesus invites – doesn’t push his way in, doesn’t take over for us, but invites us to partner together, to help us to know that what we are called to be and called to do is well fitted to us and that he will share that calling, that serving because that’s the kind of Savior he is, encouraging welcoming, loving, and compassionate. Thanks be to God! Amen
Zechariah 9 : 9 – 12
Psalm 145 : 8 – 14
Romans 7 : 15 – 25a
Matthew 11 : 16 – 19 , 25 – 30