Thursday, September 3, 2015

Forgive Me Not

Love is not a victory march. It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah...”
-Leonard Cohen

Matthew 11:28-30 NRSV. “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.”

A very poignant lesson on forgiveness lurks in Matthew 11. If you are familiar with the Bible at all you are probably familiar with all the verses we love to quote on forgiveness, but maybe this one isn't quoted in that context as much. Maybe you've heard this in the context of the maxim, “Let go and let God”, which is not a thing, by the way. It's empty talk that Christians use when they don't actually have anything meaningful to say or can't think of anything to say. There's certainly nothing Biblical about it.

So let's peruse the passage shall we? The beginning of chapter Jesus and His disciples split and Jesus is spending some time on his own. John's disciples encounter him and bring some questions from John, that would be John the Baptist. He has his doubts, he's maybe discouraged or unsure, a smidgen on the hesitant side.

Instead of answering them directly, Jesus points them to actions He has done and things that are happening throughout the community, “the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed”-vs. 4-6.
Jesus is effectively telling the disciples and John, and all the other listeners around him, look at what I've done but also and possibly more importantly, “go and talk to the lepers who are no longer lepers, the blind who now see, the lame who now walk the same roads we do”. Jesus is inviting them to investigate the testimony of others that have encountered him and decide for themselves. He doesn't give them a direct answer of “yes”.

I'll spare you a detailed exegesis of the rest of the chapter but suffice to say vs. 7-24 are full of strong words from Jesus. He praises John but basically affirms John's suffering and doesn't dismiss it, He then points to all the evidence that has been given to the people He has been talking to and pronounces judgments on them if they do not accept his words as truth.

The last section in this chapter dovetails off all this and brings it to a conclusion. The song lyric from Panic at the Disco seems to fit the sentiment nicely, “All you sinners stand up, sing hallelujah”. The last few verses are a wonderful breath of fresh air compared to the previous verses. So why does Jesus say these things? He doesn't say them to affirm that our troubles will be light when we follow him, this is no, “follow Jesus and never be sad or depressed” card. What Jesus seems to be reinforcing is that his message frees the heart and that freedom will spill over into your actions. We still have struggles, we will still have aches and pains, long nights and difficult days. But Jesus speaks to the matter of the most importance, the burden of the heart and the afflictions that pile up on it, that burden of the soul that can only be lifted by Jesus. But you know what's interesting about this passage? Jesus talked about the things He had done, pointing to Him, they took direct intervention and action. May we do the same in our community so people can see what a forgiven theology looks like in action.

I thought about why forgiveness is so hard in our culture, because there's two affects or emotions that people fear the most, and it's shame and grief...I thought faith would say, 'I'll take away the pain and discomfort'. But what it ended up saying was, 'I'll sit with you in it'. -Brene Brown

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