“God’s wisdom is proved right by her results.” Matthew 11.19
Jesus was the life and soul of the party. John the Baptist, was a wet blanket. The same people who considered John too severe and strict, accused Jesus of being too lax and easy going. Jesus knew only too well what people were thinking. He acknowledged the contrast between himself and John the Baptist, but claimed that, in God’s Wisdom, there was room for them both. He commented, “God’s Wisdom is proved right by her results.” If only religious people were as accepting of differences as Jesus!
Today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30)addresses the theme of the Wisdom of God. It is a theme that would have been very familiar to his original Jewish audience. They would have immediately identified his words, “Come unto me.” with a text from their Jewish Wisdom literature, “Come to me, you who are ignorant, dwell in my school . . . Put your neck under the yoke, and let your souls receive instruction.” This invitation had been previously written by a Hebrew rabbi, a man also called Jesus, but who was the son of Sirach. Jesus bar Sirach spoke of Wisdom as the divine essence of life, dwelling within God before Creation. Both Hebrew and Christian scripture speak of this creative energy as the feminine attribute of God, and name her Sophia. She is synonymous with what others have called the divine Logos, or Holy Spirit.
Here’s the preface to the Gospel of John when, in place of “Logos”, we use its alternative Greek word “Sophia”: “In the beginning was Sophia, and Sophia was with God, and Sophia was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by her; and without her was not anything made that was made. In her was life; and the life was the light of humankind. And the light shiners in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”
Our gospels describe Jesus of Nazareth as the one who offers life in all its fullness. Jesus not only spoke of Sophia, but he embodied Sophia. He offered her familiar words in a new context. His message was not a heavy burden of instruction about how to cope with the religious and social requirements of the Law. Jesus recognized the extent to which so many were crushed by their religious and social expectations. Jesus offered them encouragement. He emphasized that the Law of Moses was never intended to be a burden, but to strengthen religious resolve and to support a more compassionate society.
Jesus said, ‘Take my yoke upon you.’ His use of the word ‘yoke’ is significant. A yoke is something we rarely encounter today, yet it remains in common use among our neighbours of the Old Order of Mennonites in Waterloo County. A yoke is the wooden cross piece fastened over the necks of two oxen or draft horses and attached to the plough or wagon that they draw.
By acting as Sophia’s mouthpiece, Jesus offered a haunting invitation to all who found themselves weary and overburdened by the Law. That is why he partied with the so called sinners or religious failures. Instead of saying, ‘Come to me, you who are ignorant, dwell in my school . . . Put your neck under my yoke, and let your souls receive further instruction.’ Jesus says, ‘Come to me, you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’
Jesus embodies God’s creative life-giving energy, and invites all people to come to him. Sophia doesn’t stand idly by, watching us critically as we stumble on our way. Jesus practices what he preaches. In his name, Sophia becomes our yoked companion, sharing our burdens, helping us to move forward, despite all that would pull us back and drag us down.
For whom is this invitation intended, and who are likely to respond? Those who feel a sense of need; those who are aware of their own inadequacy. They include people like Isaac, the subject of our first reading this morning. Isaac, the son of Abraham, was a bundle of insecurities. He was suspicious of his family, his neighbours and his tribal God. He didn’t trust any one of them. No wonder! He would never recover from the day his father was prepared offer him up as a sacrifice. Isaac had been badly frightened by the religious zeal of his father, Abraham. He spent the rest of his life keeping religion, God and others at a distance.
Sadly, there are a multitude of people who have been damaged like Isaac in the name of religion. It is to them that Jesus offers divine understanding and compassion. Sadly, I have spent considerable time ministering to those whose lives have been damaged in the name of Jesus and condemned in the name of Christianity. The list is too long, but it includes those trapped in abusive relationships and others denied an affirmation of their gender identity, let alone an opportunity to celebrate the same openly within their faith community. To them Jesus offered words of comfort, encouragement and strength, when he invites others to “Come unto me”. And not just words. He backed these up with his readiness to break down barriers and sit and eat with those others kept apart. He didn’t wait until the Sanhedrin, the synods of his day, debated long and often to reach a consensus, while people continued to hurt or who gave up in despair. He didn’t hesitate and nor should we.
When we respond to his voice speaking to us in the name of Sophia, we too find rest for our souls. And so shall others when, like Jesus, we speak in her name. When we accept his invitation, his yoke fits comfortably and doesn’t chafe – and our burden is lightened because it is shared with the Wisdom of God. And so shall others when, like Jesus, we truly minister in her name. As our companion Jesus, Sophia says, in effect, “Come to me, all depressed and hurting people, and I will renew your lives, I will restore your souls. Accept my discipline and learn my lesson – for I am unassuming, I am approachable – and you will find inner peace”.
This invitation is offered to us as we to move forward to renew our life with his in this Holy Communion. Come to Jesus; take his yoke upon you, allow him to gently lift your burden. May we follow him as our life’s companion and, in his name, let us gently lift those burdens that otherwise crush others.
N CARVER 09.07.2017
The Church of the Holy Saviour, Waterloo, Ontario