“I’ll call Richard Dawkins and say I’ve got proof”. John said.
John is a good friend and neighbour in our village.
He was reversing his land-rover with a heavy trailer attached, down a narrow drive.
He and I have an on-going amount of banter between us, because he would describe himself as an evangelistic atheist and I, well….here I am in this dog collar.
We were working together on the village fete. It was going to be really difficult to reverse the trailer full, as it was, and I said (knowing, I confess, that it would wind him up) ‘it’s OK, I will pray for you’.
Almost immediately and out of nowhere, the owner of the house appeared and guided the trailer safely backwards.
‘It’s proof!’ John said ‘prayers get answered’ – with, of course, a heavy dose of irony in his voice….
But of course we don’t see God in action, if we don’t want to.
It’s hardly the best example of a miracle, but this little incident did spring to mind as I was reading this passage from Matthew to prepare for this morning.
Is it possible that the reason we don’t see what God is doing around us, is not that God is not acting around us but that we choose not to see what he is doing?
The second half of Chapter 12 of Matthew is Jesus’ response to those who choose not to see what is going on. Who stand on the side-lines and are not moved or stand and criticise.
In verse 16 Jesus compares his contemporaries to children who stand to one side in all the games. Choosing not to take part.
He quotes what must have been a popular children’s rhyme in the market place at the time:
‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
It’s not the children’s circumstances or mood which the singers are criticising – whether they are joyful or sad – the singers are willing to play something joyful or sad – whatever is right.
No, whatever the mood of the music, the children are choosing to stand critically on the side-lines and not take part in the game.
Jesus’ is saying that his contemporaries were the same – whether the music is joyful or sad they won’t get involved.
They complained about the hermit-like John the Baptist – living in the desert off locusts and honey that he was too austere. Now they were complaining about Jesus – who used to feast with the poor and sinners – that he was a glutton.
It was like they were choosing not to be involved – John’s asceticism and Jesus’ feasting, was just an excuse.
Jesus then uses another example.
In verses 20-24 Jesus compares three towns of his time: Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, with three towns subject to God’s wrath in the Old Testament: Tyre, Sidon and Sodom.
Those Old Testament towns, Jesus says, did not have the blessing of witnessing Jesus in action – of witnessing his miracles. If the evidence that had been given to Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum had been given to Tyre, Sidon and Sodom – Jesus says, they would all have repented and been saved from destruction.
And yet these modern towns, despite witnessing what Jesus was doing, continue to ask Jesus for a sign, for more proof, that he is really the Messiah.
Jesus continues verse 25: It’s not as if you need to be well educated in philosophy, theology and the sciences to be able to see what God is doing around us. In fact to be so may be a complete disadvantage. On the contrary, Jesus delights in the fact that God has ‘hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children’.
You see our great wisdom and learning from our professional backgrounds can in this most important area of all – our relationship with God – be a stumbling block – an obstacle.
This is why we need to be a bit careful of seeking truth in increasing intellectual engagement.
If we want proof of God’s existence (or even if we want to speculate about him) before we start to try and engage with him, we will for ever be carping on the sidelines. Theology from the perspective of intellectual detachment, is really an empty exercise. Like reading the handbook to a Mazarati, but never driving the car.
Of course, it is worth while seeking to demolish the intellectual obstacles to belief in God – but we will never prove that God exists to the satisfaction of anyone. It is not set up that way. And to make it a requirement that there is proof before we engage with him, will mean that we never get of the starting blocks.
No, what Jesus is calling us to do is to forget about all that; and just walk with him and learn from him. As you do so, we get all the proof that we need.
The two-headed yoke of ancient times involved two oxen walking together at the same pace – perhaps an older beast teaching a younger one. Jesus says in verse 29: “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.”
Just think of the burdens that we do choose to put on our necks – the constant pursuit of money and for affirmation; the struggle to look like a super model; or to look younger than our years; the requirement to win at all costs; the effort (a bit less out of fashion now) to maintain the ridiculous demands of what my mother used to call ‘class consciousness’; the attempt to have the life style or family that Hollywood presents as an ideal and you think others have got just taped; I am sure you can think of others. These are tough slave drivers – they impose a heavy burden.
But Jesus’ burden is light; his guidance is gentle; he leads us, in serving us. Why stand on the side lines carping and complaining – choosing to ignore the music?
Ask Jesus to shake of the burden, the slavery that we carry and take on the gentle yoke that he offers.
And we will find that he gives us rest.