The Rev. Jeremiah Williamson
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Rejection and Invitation
“Meh.” That was the response. It's deflating; that is a deflating response. John the Baptist was tearing it up. Yelling words of judgment – the veins on his temples pulsing. He was spinning amazingly devastating metaphors about hacking trees with axes and broods of vipers. He was fearlessly calling powerful people out for their indiscretions. He was drowning sins in the river. He was making the way for the Messiah and the kingdom of God. He was fired up for some repentance. He was wailing, but no one mourned. He was the prophet for which they had long waited, but, you know, folks were busy. And so instead of falling on the mercy of God, folks walked by the river, shrugged their shoulders, and let out a collective, “meh.”
But that was John; I mean, he was a big deal but it's not like he was the Messiah. Now Jesus, that guy is the Messiah. Generations lived and died just hoping for him to show up on the scene. He was the one the prophets promised. And he was walking the walk. Jesus was healing folks here, casting out demons there, preaching salvation everywhere. His message was an invitation, an invitation to join the kingdom of God. He came to usher in God's reign – a reign of abundance, joy, and love. It was exciting stuff, excessive even. I mean, he fed 5000 people with a couple of fish and a few pieces of bread – and there were baskets of left-overs. And his guest list was ridiculous; he invited everybody – even those people everybody else hates. Jesus was talking good news and living good news. Jesus was jamming on his flute like a 1st century Ron Burgundy, and no one danced. He was the Messiah, but you know how it is, folks were kind of skeptical and he did eat a lot, and he spent a lot of time with losers. Jesus offered salvation, but everybody was like, “Meh. I don't know. You kinda drink a lot, so....”
Rejection: that's what it was. Not the angry, adamant rejection that would come later – not a beheading or a crucifixion – but a general apathy. It was puzzling for Jesus' earliest followers. As far as they were concerned, there was absolutely nothing else better or more important in the world: they found Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. God was with them and for them and it was a miracle – the miracle of miracles; but most everyone was just kind of disinterested.
I suspect the disinterest was hard for those Christians in Matthew's community to understand. Living a generation or two after Jesus' ascension, many of them never had the opportunity to meet Jesus in the flesh. They had been reborn by his Spirit; they had encountered him in the other members of the Church, in their brothers and sisters in Christ, and in the breaking of the bread. But they never had the opportunity Jesus' contemporaries had. And yet many of those who knew him in the days of his earthly life and witnessed his ministry and heard his words, did not even care. It must have been confusing and also kind of devastating, unfair even.
But also familiar. Because every generation of the Church has experienced the same thing. The good news, the Gospel, seems irresistible – especially to those of us who are hooked. But it is not. And in the same way Jesus' works and words drew an often tepid response, so does the Church's witness still today.
I remember when I was new to the Episcopal Church. After many years in a fundamentalist Christian tradition, a tradition that had become burdensome to me and oppressive to my spirit, coming into the Episcopal tradition was for me a fresh experience of the Gospel. I was excited. And, as converts usually are, I was very happy to tell others about this new church. And I did. And my enthusiasm was mostly met with confusion and disinterest. There was a lot, “that's nice” - a polite way of saying, “meh”.
The world has this way of teaching us to hide those things we most treasure, to protect them from ridicule or worse from disinterest. I've had a number of folks privately confess to me on their death bed. But you know, usually it is not a sin they wish to confess; instead it is usually a life-changing experience of God from years earlier – something amazing that they never shared with anyone. Because it is hard to risk it. It is hard to offer up something so beautiful and meaningful in a world that often responds with cool apathy. Jesus took on the human struggle to share the most amazing message of all and was met mostly with rejection after rejection after rejection.
And after everything, after every disinterested, apathetic, underwhelming human response to the Gospel, Jesus says, “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 weary souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
This is the Gospel: that Jesus responds to rejection after rejection after rejection with yet another invitation. Always another invitation.
We live in a wearied world, with weary people – people with broken hearts, who are afraid to risk those broken hearts yet again. But, in the words of St. Augustine, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” God knows, we need Jesus. And so the ever-rejected Jesus continues to risk his heart – for us, for an apathetic world, for a weary people who are desperate for rest. An invitation in response to rejection; an open invitation that will never close.