Romans 7:15-25a and Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Alison Video: – https://youtu.be/6foXS7L8bvg
Bishop Peter Video: – https://youtu.be/8kzoXeP52Zo
In the name of God, Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit Amen
Both of our readings today in different ways tune in to making judgements about our behaviour. The gospel started with Jesus describing the judgements people made of him and his behaviours – describing him as a drunkard, glutton and associating with the sinners and tax-collectors. Then St Paul’s letter to the Romans describe Paul’s judgements of himself and his own behaviour choices.
The Romans reading reminded me of a sign I saw in a Church Primary School a few years ago, which said – Your behaviour is your responsibility. We all know around children the ease with which they can say to one another “So and so made me do it” – especially when we have been found out. But frankly I have also seen us adults behaving like this too!!! This is all a question of self-control
What is self control? – Self-control at its simplest is exercising control over your feelings or actions, or restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions, or desires. In more spiritual language, we probably most think of it as the active effort we put forth to resisting temptations that are not God’s way for us. A more positive take – Behaviour honouring of our love for God and God’s control on our lives.
The good news is that self-control is a fruit of the spirit identified by Paul in Galatians. Making it something that the Holy Spirit can help us with. Having said that: I also don’t want us to be left with the impression that I have got this completely sussed and am a shining squeaky clean example of this in my life! Thankfully the words of Paul today resonate in my life and our lives as much as they did in his – Paul says this in Verse 15 – I do not understand what I do – For what I want to do I do not do but what I hate I do.
The next piece of what he says goes something like this – He longs to do the right thing but ends up doing completely the other – the wrong thing. It’s not a one off he does this over and over again. He is still vulnerable to temptation, just as we are. Weakness and wrong doing where we should have greater self-control are his struggle just as much as these things are our struggle too
Struggling with self-control is not a new problem – classical philosophers had issues here too! Conceptually it was introduced by Socrates 2400 years ago. Plato set it in opposition to overindulgence in both food and sex. Even Aristotle discussed the difference between a person who has powerful passions but keeps them under control and the person who does not deliberately choose the wrong but has no strength to resist temptation.
I can’t speak for you but I often find Paul’s take on things difficult. In this instance however we can grasp it as in Romans Paul understands himself and his lapses in self-control very well. What a wretched man I am he says in verse 24 of Romans 7 – Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?
Paul’s answer to this question is Jesus saving love for us on the cross, and this is the bridge to our gospel reading too. God’s mercy and forgiveness and our deliverance and our need for thankfulness are Paul’s answer, and to live lives in response to that is Paul’s answer. Here is a deep truth we celebrate as Christians, that if we acknowledge our weaknesses and mistakes and are sorry we can put them behind us as God forgives us and we can start again. For in God’s eyes that is already done and done in and through Jesus Christ
Working on self-control is not the path to punishing times of hard labour to make up for our past mistakes or present weaknesses, or agonising over our faults, living with crippling guilt, and struggles of trying to do enough to earn a pardon. What needs doing is done already in Jesus. To use the language of many of our hymns and songs. The debt is cleared. The price is paid. The slate is wiped clean. God loves us and bids us welcome, forgiveness is ours for the asking. We need only to reach out and receive – but there is more here even than this amazing merciful forgiveness.
The second half of the words of Jesus we heard today in our gospel are a call to simplicity in our faith (and not making it difficult or just for the elite and learned). This was a tide very much against the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. The religious practice of the day was very complicated – One commentary I read said daily life as a pharisee was governed by 613 rules!! Imagine living constrained like that. The sheer effort to remember all those rules would limit virtually any action
Our Bible’s translate the end of verse 25 as infants, but many other translations make it the childlike or as children. The inference here is that the wise and intelligent do not receive the good news of Jesus Christ so readily, because they can become proud and puffed up in their wisdom and can be unreceptive regarding the new and the unexpected. Being childlike enables us to be unself-conscious, dependent and receptive, and be more open to the unexpected and swings and roundabouts of life. It can also help us to stay deeply rooted to God’s merciful and everlasting love for us.
Moving on to verse 27 and the heart of our gospel reading
All things have been handed over to me by my Father. 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.
We are heading into much more difficult territory to understand here. Jesus is explaining his unique place in the world – Fully God and fully human. In this instance he is explaining His relationship to God the Father. He alone is the one through whom God reveals himself to us. He is the only mediator of knowledge of the Father and of God’s saving purposes for us. It is important for us to really digest this and take this to heart.
Our part in this is our ability to recognise Jesus’ unique role – The significance of Jesus and his opening out of his kingdom on earth to us. Our realisation of this changes our lives as we invite Jesus into our hearts and he moulds us through his spirit’s work in us and through us. Are we joining with Paul’s sentiments with giving room in our hearts for Jesus love for us to be first and foremost? Are we being thankful enough for that saving, amazing, eternal love – the ground of our beings?
The final part of our gospel reading today includes some deeply reassuring words of Jesus – so typical of his love for us – 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.’
Jesus is contrasting his way of living on earth – Lightly, lovingly, with integrity and open-heartedness to the guidance of God’s spirit with the minutiae of rules and regulations (back at the 613 rules I was alluding to earlier) that governed religious observance of his day. Though it may sound like it a little – I don’t think this is Jesus saying follow me and have an easy life. He is saying follow me and have a fulfilled life in him
Being a Christian is challenging and far from an easy option, but depending on Jesus will give both us life and the rest we need to follow his unique plan for us. The version of these words from the message makes this clearer I think:-
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. (I think he means meaning and purpose and hope etc) 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.”
I particularly like in that – learn the unforced rhythms of grace. Grace is a RHYTHM that is governed by God and does not change. We can do nothing to earn it, and is not about our worthiness of it. From Jesus’ fullness of life, his coming to earth, dying and rising again – Fully God and fully human – we have all received grace upon grace.
There is a constant movement or waves of this grace in our hearts and lives. I like the analogy of the waves on the shore for grace. One wave comes in as another is going out. The ebbing and flowing of the waves of grace leads to deep transformational change that shifts our observations of reality. Those shifts change our perceptions, our interpretations, our thoughts, feelings, judgements, and actions, helping us to live, grow and depend on God’s love for us more and more.
End with a prayer – let us pause and then pray
God of many names, gracious in your loving, merciful in your judgements, steadfast in your faithfulness to us, compassionate to all: may we always be thankful for all you have done, from creation to the end of time, and into the eternity of your rest; may we always sing your praises, speak of your greatness, and bring glory to you by our actions. Gracious, merciful, steadfast, compassionate, loving God.
Come to God, all who are weary and tired. Come to God, all who are burdened by life. Come to God, all who feel trapped and underappreciated. For you will find: the rest you need, the peace you seek, and the love you long for. Come to God, in Jesus Christ. Amen
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995
Prayer adapted from rootsontheweb.com ©