“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
“‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.’” (Mt. 11:16-17, NIV)
It’s not very gratifying to fight with the anonymous editor of the liturgical lectionary. He or she is probably long-dead and wouldn’t pay attention anyway. So who do I rail against? God, for creating the readings? Or the editor who splashed the readings together like murky mis-matched ingredients in an unappetizing pudding?
The combination of Romans 7 and Matthew 11 for last Sunday was not my favorite pairing. Whether intentional or not, I heard condemnation from Paul (the good which I want to do I don’t do; and I do that which I do not want to do (paraphrase mine)) and frustration from Matthew (to what shall I compare this generation – Jesus’ irritation with the multitudes and cities which did not receive Him and wrote Him off).
“Great,” my soul said. “I am wicked and doomed to fail, without wisdom and doing what I shouldn’t, having all the wrong reactions.” My brain knew quite well that the writers of the Scripture did not intend that; I’d looked further than the intended readings and found lots of “rest” and “come to me all ye that are heavy laden” and “there is now no condemnation” passages. My heart, however, whined at the thought of dealing with the bad news before I could land on the good.
The words, “Do I have to?” came to mind more than once, and I strongly considered tossing either a pillow or The Book at the wall in the general direction of the imagined lectionary editor. Couldn’t we switch to another Sunday’s readings? My grumblings took on that pre-nap thin, nasal, whiney tone that goes up an octave.
Not so fast, my husband countered gently as he tugged me back from my tantrum. It’s important to see why those passages are there, he said. I want to look at the context, he said. Yeah, yeah, whatever, I thought as I headed back to the computer. Gnarly. I was gnarly.
So it was ironic to find I was doing exactly what the passages warned against. I was missing Jesus, the same way the multitudes and the cities did. They expected something else from Jesus. They wanted Him to be a high and lofty military general, or a rescuer, or an educated Pharisee or something, anything other than who He was.
And I wanted Him to give me rest before I considered what He was really saying. He wanted me to see what He was really doing and challenge my heart to follow; I wanted comfort.
“Okay, Lord.” I sighed as I gave up and landed in the chair. “Where am I missing you? Where am I overlooking the obvious wonders that you are doing?”
He replied without a hint of condemnation. “You’re despairing. You want big healings and wonders but you’re forgetting the little ones.”
Little ones? What little ones? My thoughts waded into a defensive puddle before I could stop them. My lower lip stuck out. Pouting? Was I pouting??
“Alright, really, what am I missing, Jesus?” There, that was more like it. I actually meant it this time.
“I’m answering the little prayers. Look smaller.” Smaller? I frowned, thinking fast. You mean all the times I prayed that fearsome storms would pass – and they did? You mean all the times that bad things didn’t happen? And the times I didn’t self-destruct in the middle of giving a talk or a sermon? You mean all the times that my dreaded illnesses weren’t as bad as I expected? And the times He blessed me with lots and lots of little successes? Those times?
In my mind’s eye, I saw Jesus nod subtly and smile. I’d prayed big prayers and He was glad. Recently, though, the big answers eluded me. The little ones? Oh, I disregarded the little ones.
And so I thanked Him — for storms that passed, for sales made, for smiles seen, for encouraging words; for laughing at emails, for crying with friends; for sunsets, flowers, cats in the drive and birds in nests, for cars that lived long and for fights that ended short — I stopped and thanked. I chose to see Him. I redirected my eyes.
And then I rested. If I skipped the hard verses, I would not have entered into the nicer ones. Funny how one had to precede the other. A change of thinking, then a childlike response: dropping the burden at Jesus’ feet. No condemnation, lots of rest.
My shoulders relaxed as I leaned back, eyeing a large glass of lemonade. “How many times,” I wondered, turning the glass in my hand. “How many times do we miss Jesus?”