Our Limited Minds, Our Weary Souls

Sermons Proclaim
Homily: Ordinary Time 14
July 5, 2020
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: Even though Jesus teaches us that we can never fully understand God, we can use our intellects to gain a deeper perspective on what God reveals. All people, despite education or sophistication, can find rest for their souls in Jesus.

Excerpt: Reading this passage from Matthew feels a little like holding the leashes of two dogs, each straining in a different direction. One dog pulls us in the direction of our thinking, our intellect. That's what the first part of the passage is about. Jesus teaches us about wisdom and intellect in vv. 25-27. The second dog pulls us toward our feelings. Jesus teaches about feeling weary in vv. 28-30. We need to guide these two dogs to go in the same direction in order to get our lives together.

A head trip

We might scratch our heads at what Jesus says in the first part of our passage. When Jesus says, "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," we don't know what Jesus might mean. If we start with the first part of that verse, we might feel the need to ask Jesus some questions.

We might ask Jesus about the wisdom tradition from the Hebrew Bible. At the heart of wisdom theology stands Proverbs 9:10, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight." According to the sage of Proverbs, a worshipful attitude toward God enables one to begin the process of acquiring wisdom. The verse links a worshipful attitude toward God with wisdom. In Proverbs, personified wisdom says,

"My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver." 1 The Bible praises wisdom. Observing God's creation reveals wisdom to us. The sage calls us to pursue it.

We might ask Jesus about his own teachings. When Jesus summoned his disciples, he told them, "See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." 2 We need wisdom to do ministry. Jesus himself demonstrated wisdom. When Jesus' opponents tried to trick him, to trip him up, he outsmarted them. He answered their questions about paying taxes and the resurrection. 3

Both from the wider biblical tradition and from Jesus' own teachings and ministry, we learn the value of wisdom. If we look at how the Bible itself came to us, we realize the value of wisdom and intellect. We know that the process of producing, translating and editing the Bible requires much brain power. Reading and understanding Matthew's gospel pushes us to think. If we say something disparaging about the wise and the well-educated, don't we risk alienating smart people? Might they end up saying, "Well, I guess Christianity isn't for me?"

Children and faith

Given all of that, we may have to take a "yes, but" approach to what Jesus says here. We have already talked about the "but." Now, we can ask what value we can see in what Jesus says about the infants. On just the surface level, we all have known children who have faith, who trust in God. Beyond that, we can talk about how we understand Jesus' words when it comes to adults who lack sophistication or academic credentials. In the verses leading up to this passage, Jesus has talked about those who had seen deeds of power but had shut themselves off from faith.

Might Jesus here refer to those who use their intellect as a shield to protect themselves from the risk of trust and faith? If we open ourselves to trust in God, we have to let go of some control. We become vulnerable. Perhaps people use their intellect to avoid having to let go of their control and thus, open themselves to faith in God.

If we have faith and seek to use our wisdom and intellect, we can go to greater depths in understanding the things of God. Reading the giants of the faith and wrestling with difficult doctrines can help our faith as well as push us to know more about what we believe.

Nevertheless, one insight we gain from Jesus' word here is that we can never know all about God, or the meaning of Jesus' ministry and resurrection. Jesus makes clear that we know him and how he helps us understand God only through revelation. We cannot arrive at an understanding of Jesus as the Son of God only through reason.

God reveals the relationship, and we use our intellect to come to a deeper understanding of it. Jesus talks in the gospels about what we call the Trinity, the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus concentrates in today's passage on the Father and the Son, but that relationship is part of the Trinity. We learn here that we understand anything about the Trinity only because God has revealed it. We thank God both for the revelation and for the intellect to understand it. We learn from this passage, however, that those who do not have the opportunity for education can have a deep faith just as the highest IQ can.

The promise of rest

If we rejoice in the gift of revelation of Jesus' identity, and the intellect God gave us to push to a deeper understanding of Jesus, we rejoice as well in Jesus' promise of rest. Jesus' promise of rest has nothing to do with our intellect or our education. Jesus offers rest when our souls are weary.

In Jesus' day, the Jewish people felt weary of the Roman occupation. They found themselves at the mercy of the Roman soldiers. They had to pay heavy taxes but had no say in how the Roman empire operated. The Jews dragged with them their lack of freedom everywhere they went. Jesus could not offer them the kind of political freedom they wanted. Jesus did not lead an army to defeat the Romans. Jesus offered rest as spiritual energy. Jesus offered rest as refreshment for the soul. Jesus offered rest as assurance that God cared about them. Jesus offered rest as the promise of resurrection.

We today in the United States do not deal with the burden of occupation by a stronger nation. Yet, we often feel frustrated by the political divisions in our country. We may feel the anger and venom in our country as a burden. We feel weary of the fighting and lack of cooperation. We may feel confused about social issues and the arguments they create. We may feel a burden looking at the suffering of the poor, of starving children in the third world. God calls us to do what we can, but the burden can feel overwhelming.

Besides politics and social issues, we find other ways that life weighs us down. We experience grief as a burden. We can feel heavy-laden with sorrow. If we have health problems, they can weigh on us. If we struggle with money, that can become a heavy burden.

Jesus will not always take all our burdens away from us. Just as Jesus did not end Roman occupation, so Jesus does not always change our outward circumstances. Jesus gives us the resources to keep going. Jesus teaches us so that our burdens are not God's will for us, but rather then are struggles through which God builds our integrity. Jesus even redeems the burdens that seem so awful we cannot see what we should learn from them.

Jesus' promise of resurrection sustains us even in the deepest of our struggles. Jesus heals the pain in our souls so that we don't feel crushed by the heavy burdens. Jesus takes our struggles and folds them into the kingdom of heaven, so that everything we do has meaning.

We trade the yokes that seem to hold us back for Jesus' yoke that redeems our efforts. With Jesus' yoke, our struggles build character and courage. With Jesus' yoke, our smallest efforts become part of God's new creation. With Jesus' yoke, we in the church pull together, sharing the load and sustaining each other.

Do our heads and hearts seem to pull us in different directions sometimes? Does trying to understand the Trinity just confuse us? Jesus assures us here that we can accept God's grace even if we don't understand it. Even infants can receive God's grace. We rejoice in God's revelation and the intellect God gives us to try to push deeper into our appreciation of it. We rejoice also that we can take our burdens to Jesus, who offers us rest. We accept the refreshment, the strength and the comfort Jesus offers us.