“But 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.” –Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 NRSV
Wait a minute. For the past few weeks in the lectionary we’ve been learning just how hard and demanding discipleship can be: Earlier Matthew told us that Jesus reminded his disciples that “the gate is narrow and the road is hard” (7:14). Keep in mind, as well, that two weeks ago (the third week after Pentecost) and less than a chapter ago in Matthew, this was the clear and rather blunt message: “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (10:38).
So which is it? Is discipleship as hard as bearing a cross through narrow gates and hard roads or an easy yoke and a light burden? Well, both actually. Considring the number of paradoxes involved in living a Christian life, this really shouldn’t be all that surprising. But this does need a bit of explaining.
Discipleship is much more than just intelluctual learning (although that’s certainly part of it). It’s the adoption of a way of life. That involves both doing and being, both of which are done in relationship with Jesus. This, in turn, is a reflection of Jesus’ relationship with his heavenly Parent. Failing to keep in a proper relationship with Jesus will ultimately result in a difficult, challenging, and hard life for any would-be disciple.
Perhaps most important of all is that as disciples we aren’t expected to duplicate what a now-absent Jesus did all on our own. His presence will go with us always. That’s why Matthew’s Gospel does not end with Jesus’ departure but with a great commissioning and assurance of his continued presence: “I am with you, even to the end of the age” (28:20).
My new book, Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile, is up on Amazon in both print and e-book formats: 161-page Book ; Kindle e-book.The ancient Hebrew prophets can serve as guides for modern-day prophetic communities to engage in actions for peace and social justice. Each of the 10 chapters includes questions for reflection and discussion, making this great for class use.