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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 07/06/2014

“Would the real Jesus please stand up!” Some of you remember the old TV game show To Tell the Truth where you would have three people claiming to be a particular individual and the panel, by asking questions, would try to figure out which two were lying and which one was really the person in question, the one telling the truth. In today’s gospel along with the in between omitted verses that I included, you get three, maybe four Jesuses to choose from. We go from exasperated Jesus, to exasperated and judgmental Jesus, to reflective and prayerful Jesus to kind and gentle Jesus all of which could leave you scratching your head, wondering which one is the real Jesus.

Today’s text starts with exasperated Jesus and the parable of the children playing in the marketplace. Jesus in essence says, “You didn’t like John the Baptist; he was too rough on the edges for you, harsh, judgmental words for everyone, fire and brimstone, repent or else; you didn’t like that. Then I came along with a more gracious message and a less edgy lifestyle, not so much on the fringe, and you didn’t like me either. When I enjoyed a good meal or a party you called me a glutton and a drunkard, plus you didn’t like the people I hung around with. You’re like child in the summer who says he’s bored but who can’t be satisfied. When the other kids want to play wedding, he doesn’t want to play; when they want to play funeral, he doesn’t want to play that either. Nothing makes him happy; he’d rather be bored and miserable.”

In the omitted verses we get exasperated and judgmental Jesus as he tells the Jewish people in the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum that because they failed to respond to the deeds of power he did in those places, they are worse than the people of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom which were Gentile cities and symbols of sinfulness among Jews. “If I did for them what I did for you, they would have repented,” Jesus tells the people in those Jewish cities, “therefore the day of judgment will be more tolerable for them than you!” This is more like Jesus channeling John the Baptist’s message of “repent or else.”

Following that, Jesus moves into reflection and prayer as he considers that all these people who think they’re so smart fail to recognize the truth that he brings but those who are less sophisticated, more open to imagining the possibilities, infants he calls them, they get it. In these verses Jesus seems to have worked through his frustration and with that he’s more accepting of the fact that this is the way things are, the way that God envisioned that it would work. With that reflection we finally move to kind and gentle Jesus with the invitation to put down our heavy burdens and rest, to take up his yoke, one which is light and easy.

That’s the Jesus we like, kind and gentle Jesus; that’s the Jesus we could describe using the words of the psalm “gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love;” that’s the Jesus who we would like to have stand up as the real Jesus. To tell the truth though, they’re all the real Jesus as he responds to the reality of how he and his ministry were received during his lifetime which was also the reality of how the Christian message was being received at the time Matthew wrote, which is also the reality of how the Christian message is received in our time.

One of the frustrations for those of us who are part of the church and for whom our journey of faith is important is that there are many people like those children in the marketplace; whatever tune you offer regarding God, Jesus, faith, the church, they don’t want to play. It seems like there’s nothing you can do to engage these people; in many cases they’re members of your own family.

Then there are those like the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum who were unimpressed by Jesus’ mighty deeds. Those people are still around too, people who never see God’s hand involved in anything, except maybe the bad things, but all the good things are either due to their own hard work and ingenuity, maybe a little luck or perhaps coincidence; nothing to do with God’s gifts or blessings. You know these people; I know these people. Sometimes, they is us.

When this gospel text finally gets to kind, gentle Jesus you get that comforting line, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” The burdens that we carry are many and varied so obviously a verse like this is open to interpretation, but based on what exasperated Jesus says before this, the burden that he recognizes in the people he addresses is the burden of cynicism or perhaps the burden of being overly analytical, a little close minded, unable to believe that there could be another kind of truth apart from that which is literal and factual, truth that is beyond and greater than that which can be proved by science and reason.

People carrying this burden have lost their ability to be amazed by anything except maybe by human intelligence. They’ve lost the ability to wonder, to imagine, to dream, to open themselves to hope that there’s more to life than that which human intellect can master, more to life than just a mundane day to day grind that ultimately doesn’t mean anything.

Carrying this burden they have lost a dimension of what it is to be human. Many are living good and useful lives, but something is missing. Jesus contrasts these people to what he calls infants. By that, I don’t think he means the term literally, but instead he’s talking about people who haven’t lost a sense of wonder and playfulness. The children playing in the marketplace had lost it; no matter what the game, they didn’t want to play. The people unimpressed by Jesus’ deeds of power had also lost it. Rather than be amazed and open to the idea that Jesus had done something new in their presence, something they hadn’t experienced before, they would find a way to explain it away and stay in their flat, unimaginative world.

The world is full of people like this; they’re not evil or anything, most are good, decent people, but they carry a burden. What we also have to recognize is that this isn’t an us/them thing; we all carry this burden to some extent or at least we have to guard against it. It’s easy to become those children in the marketplace or the people in those Jewish cities. We pick up the burden of cynicism without even being aware of it.

To counter this, borrowing a phrase from the Zechariah text, we are called to be prisoners of hope. It’s a phrase that got my attention because at first glance it doesn’t make sense. Hope doesn’t seem like something you would describe as a prison? You think about people being prisoners of bad things, alcohol or drugs, prisoners of greed, prisoners of cynicism. But not hope; hope is a good thing. So what is Zechariah talking about here?

What you probably recognized in this reading was the Palm Sunday connection at the beginning, “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey.” We see that vision fulfilled in Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem but it wasn’t what the people of his time were hoping for or what the people of Zechariah’s time were hoping for some 500 years before that. Both of those groups were hoping for a military/political leader, one who, in Jesus’ time would free them from the power of Rome, in Zechariah’s time from the power of Persia. They were prisoners of hope, but it was misguided hope because it wasn’t hope for anything new, just hope for a reconfiguration of the old. Zechariah’s image of a king humble and riding on a donkey didn’t fit; Jesus’ fulfillment of that image didn’t fit because it represented hope for something not based on the past. The people were called to be prisoners of hope that would allow them to see things differently, to imagine the world and power differently, to see visions and dream dreams.

For us, that kind of is hope centered on the resurrection of Jesus, hope that out of brokenness and suffering and death, new life is possible. We’re to be prisoners of a hope that tells us that there is more to life, prisoners of a hope that tells us that there is a future and it’s a future that isn’t just a return to the past, as much as we think we might like that, but it’s a new and hopeful future because God is always at work doing new things.

When the real Jesus stands up, when the risen Christ stands up, this is the God that he reveals. It’s a God who does relieve us of whatever burdens we carry, a God who does allow us to rest, a God who makes us prisoners of hope.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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