St Andrew, Glencairn
Glencairn Methodist Church
READING Matthew 11: 16-19 and 25-30
You may have heard this saying before:
You can fool some of the people all of the time;
You can fool all of the people some of the time;
But you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.
Sounds a bit like something you might read in the Book of Proverbs. Or is something a politician might say, although many do ignore it and try to fool all of the people all of the time.
The saying is indeed attributed to a politician – a President of the United States of America no less. It is generally attributed to Abraham Lincoln, probably implying that it is foolish to try to fool the electorate at any time.
To fool someone means to tell lies or half truths in such a way that the people listening actually believe what you are saying. Today we call them “spin doctors” None of our present day politicians would try to do that; now would they?
A saying similar to this is
You can please some of the people all of the time;
You can please all of the people some of the time;
But you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
Is this a terribly erudite proverb or it simply a statement of the obvious?
Sometimes clergy come up against this in relations with their parishioners. Some people are happy with all you are doing and think you are great. Sometimes everybody thinks you have made a great decision and they wonder at your judgement, and some people cannot be pleased at all.
Jesus encountered this frustration in his dealings with the Jewish religious and political leaders. He asks rhetorically “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the market place and calling out to others:
“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
“We sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.”
And he went on to explain, “For John (the Baptist) came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’, but I came eating and drinking and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners””. Jesus played the flute, and John sang the dirge and they were both rejected. There is just no pleasing some folk no matter what you do especially if they don’t want to be pleased.
The Old Testament (Deuteronomy 21: 18-21) warns parents about “a stubborn and rebellious son”, who refuses their discipline. When they finally give up on him, they are to bring him to court and say “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.” Then the court would find him guilty and execute him by stoning. I’m glad that such a treatment is abhorrent these days. We have chosen to ignore this Old Testament decree in the light of our greater understanding of what Jesus says about mercy and forgiveness. There were also warnings in the Bible to beware false prophets who could lead people away from worshiping Yahweh. The excuse of the Jews regarding Jesus was that in saying that he was a glutton and a drunkard they were implying that he was also a rebellious son and perhaps also a false prophet. Well from their point of view they were certainly right that Jesus was introducing new ideas and new practices, but he was just upsetting their applecart too much. And they didn’t like it.
The Pharisees and the Temple leaders, the Sadducees, were more concerned with the letter of their religious laws (found in the Old Testament, their Bible, than with the spirit of the scriptures which pointed to Jesus and his proclamation that the Kingdom of God had come. The Sadducees in particular were political animals. Their only objective was to be able to administer the temple worship and the lucrative trade in animals for sacrifice, and they were willing to cooperate and comprise with the Romans to achieve their sole objective.
And this is why they were so against Jesus and why they found his method of ministry abhorrent and why they wanted to get rid of him. And John fell foul of King Herod for criticising Herod’s lax morals in public. They were both executed as a result.
Then in the second portion of scripture that we read, verses 25-30, Jesus goes on to talk about his relationship with the father. He says that no one really knows Jesus except the father, and no one really knows the Father except Jesus and those to whom he chooses to reveal the Father. And when we truly believe that Jesus in indeed God the Son, then in Jesus we see the Father. Jesus is saying this himself. He also tells Philip that anyone who has “seen” him has indeed “seen” the Father. In my notes I have written this “seen” in parenthesis to remind me to tell you that it was “seeing” in a special way and not simply seeing another man. We see the soul of Jesus, his inner self, and we infer that this is exactly the same as the soul of God. The nature of Jesus is the nature of God.
But Jesus also says that it is only “children” who see Jesus in this way. The wise and the learned are so tied up in their scholarship, and so involved with keeping the minutiae of the Torah, the Law, and keeping the Romans sweet that their eyes are closed to the inner nature of Jesus. He has said this elsewhere as well. In Matthew 18: 3 – “Unless you change and become as little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” People miss the message that God loves them with an immense love, an inestimable love, for which we give thanks in the General Thanksgiving of Morning and Evening Prayer Rite 1 (on p99 of the 2004 Book of Common Prayer
The thing that characterises a child is trust. A boy or girl trusts their parents to be good to them; unless of course their parents destroy that childlike trust by abusing them in one way or another. And so it is, with our relationship with Jesus, and hence with God. We learn more by simply following Jesus then by reading erudite books. Mind you reading erudite books is part and parcel of being a clergyperson, and, once you know Jesus “as a child” and trust him, reading books, especially those written by Christian authors, and listening to people lecture helps a person to be more able to argue the case for Christianity with the so called “new atheists” such as Richard Dawkins Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett and those who follow them. We are better prepared to debate with people we meet in our day-to-day lives who do not know Jesus. We have to be able to explain our beliefs and give a reason for the faith that is within us, doing more that simply quoting scripture to them. We find that they don’t think the Bible is all it is cracked up to be.
Even some, so called, Bible Believing Christians, are so tied up in ensuring that we all live up to the strict demands of the Bible, while forgetting the essence of the gospel message that God is loving and forgiving. In a nut shell, this is our calling too – to be loving and forgiving, to be merciful and un-judgmental and kind.
And Jesus gives us all a lovely promise at the end of this teaching. He knows that it is hard for us not to sin; he knows that life can be tiring and burdensome. And he says if this is you – weary and heavy burdened, then simply turn to him and he will give us rest. He tells us to exchange our burden of care for his Yoke and to learn from him that he is gentle and humble in heart. Then we will find rest for our souls, “for my yoke is easy and my burden is light”. This is something we all need to remember when we are struggling with life and all that it throws at us.
Ken (1 July 2017)
This Message was inspired by Tom Wright's Matthew for Everyone.
NOTE - Previous "Monthly Messages" are archived at http://glencairn.connor.anglican.org/previousmessages.htm