July 4 weekend always lends itself to family adventures. With Mother and Robert, my stepfather, in town, we decided to spend Saturday taking in a couple of sights in Northeast Georgia.
Our first stop was the Babyland Hospital, Cabbage Patch central where Mother Cabbage gave birth to a lovely little girl named Virginia……Needless to say it was an extraordinary experience which I cannot put into words…
Next, we went to Helen. To be sure, this was by no means a good idea, on the Saturday of July 4 weekend, but, being new here, we did not know that it would take one hour to go seven miles. And we did not know that there would be a hundred thousand people packed into the quaint little alpine village…or at least it seemed that way.
When the bus finally dropped us off with our bright green tubes, there were people as far as we could see…floating down the river. The person in the office told us that there were five thousand people on the Chattahoochee. I think he underestimated…
People were everywhere. The five of us landed in our tubes, and we headed off floating down the river. It didn’t take long before we were so clogged up with the other tubes. My mother accidentally kicked a man in the head. I ended up in a tree that had fallen into the side of the river. Poor Evelyn was tossed to and fro, being tied to my tube. Lisa was separated from us multiple times, but we’d end up thrown together again.
It was an interesting experience. At several points, we found ourselves helping push other folks off. Complete strangers. We would give kicks to someone else’s tube. I reached out my hand at one point—after standing up to free Lisa—and gave my hand to a woman who was tied to a friend’s tube. I freed them from their rocky bondage and sent them on their way, floating in freedom.
You may ask yourself what this has to do with today’s Gospel from St. Matthew. That’s a good question! Maybe nothing…. Or, it may be an interesting image of the lesson that Jesus was trying to give in today’s text.
It’s an interesting text, with intriguing images.
Jesus says, “To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,
“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance.”
“We wailed, and you did not mourn.”
And Jesus goes on to describe how “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard…”
Interesting images that may, at first glance, appear to have nothing in common with one another.
All week, I have wrestled with this text. I took it to Lanier Village, and we wrestled together. I took it to the vestry meeting, and we wrestled together. In staff meeting, we wondered what lesson the text held for us.
It is an enigmatic text indeed, and even Jesus points to this:
“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants…”
What if…what if Jesus is inviting those gathered—and thusly us—to recognize how our limited perceptions can separate us from one another?
How often do we find ourselves hindered, constrained, limited, confined by our own loaded expectations?
How do our perceptions limit or inhibit a deeper relationship with our brothers and sisters throughout the world?
The image of the two groups of children is an interesting one. There they are, playing the flute and wailing—and being disappointed when the other children didn’t conform to their expectations. Can’t you just hear the children, But Mom, why won’t they dance? Why aren’t they doing what I want them to do? They’re not listening to me!!
And the image of John and Jesus builds on this theme even more. John lived his life with a certain practice of piety, limiting what he ate and drank. And, as the text describes, people ridiculed him and called him possessed.
Jesus ate and drank, with all kinds of folks in fact, and folks immediately labeled him a drunkard and a glutton.
Both of them failed to meet others’ expectations and loaded agendas. Both of them failed to conform to others’ perceptions of what a prophet should be.
I find myself struggling with my perceptions all the time, and I’m often knocked back then they are shattered. The trucker in Subway who shared with me his thoughts on the loaded agendas and biases of the translators of the King James Bible. The attendant at Office Depot who suddenly shares with my daughter her experiences as a biology major with plans to attend vet school. The quiet librarian who gives a couple million dollars to charity when she dies.
There are so many others….so many other perceptions shattered….
One of the greatest misperceptions we have today is that we are separated individuals going through this world. We live in an age where we our “mythology,” if you will, is that we are autonomous individuals who, on one level or the other, have to compete with one another.
Our economic theory is, in fact, grounded in the notion that there is a limited supply of X that folks want. And those individuals with enough means can get X. So, there is a strong sense of separation in our culture, of being over and against in the pursuit of limited resources.
Some theologians believe that this sense of radical individualism is the greatest heresy of our age, because it denies a crucial truth about our existence: that we are, in fact, joined together in our life in God, as the Body of Christ, as people of the Spirit.
If we look closely, Jesus points us to the truth of relationship—of interdependence.
“All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and 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.”
Hence, the deeper meaning that has been “hidden from the wise” is that our reality exists within the Trinitarian reality of God, a reality of relationship and interdependence. As children of God, we are invited to participate in the life of God—a life of relationship and mutual experience.
It’s interesting that this text was assigned to Independence Day Weekend. It is a weekend that, hopefully, gives us pause to wonder about our freedom. But, as the mystics always remind us, we should not focus solely on what we have freedom from. We should also reflect on what we have freedom for—and even who we experience our freedom with.
On this Independence Day Weekend, we would do well to reflect on our Interdependence, on the deeper truth of our existence.
As my stepfather Robert said in the car on the way home, it was overwhelming how many people there were on the river. And, we did bump into so many. We got clogged up from time to time, and it was a bit annoying. But, boy, was it great when you got stuck on a rock and someone reached out their hand and helped pull you to freedom.
The Rev. Stuart Higginbotham
Proper 9, Year A
Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30
July 6, 2014