Tag Archives: Proper 9a

Bug in the system?

Paul has set out for the Roman Church he hopes to visit the need for Christians to live the new life won for them by Jesus, and not to think that forgiveness allows them to indulge every disordered desire. In chapter 7, he begins to ask how this works out – a basic question for Christians in every age and culture.

The Jewish Christians recognise that they are now released from the Law – meaning the commands of the Old Testament (like the 10 commandments of Exodus 20). They know very well that it is one thing to know what is right and good, but another to do it. This is a problem we share. We can say that it would be wonderful if society worked according to our plan, or even if we lived in this way – but we only have to try losing weight, or getting up earlier, or being less grumpy, to discover the difficulty. As we read Romans 7:15-25, we have to admit that wanting to do something, and actually doing it consistently, are two things separated by a problem in ourselves.

Paul identifies the problem as sin. Even when we want to be good, it doesn’t always work out like that. What can we do? Of course, one solution is to change the target – “Be reasonable”, “It doesn’t matter” . . But often it does matter, and the failures cause problems. Education, discipline, harsher punishments have all been suggested, tried, – and none have provided a full solution.

The rescue that Paul has experienced is provided by Jesus. There is a fault in human behaviour (not in the design; it was caused by the refusal to recognise God and do things the way God planned). Humans do not have the ability to do what they want and believe to be right consistently and constantly – so the power of God must be brought to bear.

We shall talk more about life in the Holy Spirit in chapter 8 – next week’s reading. There is one more thing before we leave chapter 7. Is this experience of human weakness experienced by all humans, or do Christians escape?

Certainly all humans contain that flaw that prevents the good they decide on becoming the unfailing behaviour they deliver. Some are more disciplined, some less tempted, but perfection is not an option. Christians have access to the vital missing ingredient – the Holy Spirit. The Spirit works in several ways, including providing direction (what should be done), motivation (why bother?), and the power or energy to get on with it. So does that mean that Christians don’t have the problem? Not quite. With the help of the Holy Spirit they can achieve much more, but never in this life become perfect. There is still the problem, now alongside the solution, but lurking to trip us up. Thank God that’s not the end of the story!

Pleasing – some!

Selective deafness is wonderful! Do you know anyone who can hear “I want some help with the washing up!” as clearly as “Dinner’s ready!”?  In Matthew 11:16-30 Jesus is getting opposition, people won’t hear, and he summarises their attitude. John the Baptist came, and they didn’t like his attitude and lifestyle, – too severe, too harsh; then Jesus, but the parties, the doubtful friends – they didn’t like him either. The fact was – and still is – that both challenged the people to change, and they found it easier to complain than to listen.

OK says Jesus, so you won’t listen. Well, look instead!  He thinks of the towns and villages around the Lake of Galilee where he had performed so many healings and miracles, and he denounces them. Why didn’t they look, and see, and react? They had so much more chance than other places that were judged, and will bear the consequences.  (For some reason, the Lectionary leaves out these verses 20-24!)

Of course, Jesus had both the talk and the walk – he explained it and he demonstrated it. We need the same, if we are going to be real disciples, and if we are going to win any other lives for Christ.  But there’s more attraction than that. (v25-27) Jesus reminds us that it isn’t the scholarly and those who spend many hours in study who know God, but the ones he reveals himself to. Scholarship can bring arrogance – the enemy of discipleship.

And what are they going to find, those who accept Jesus direction? A yoke is a way of carrying a load – often a piece of wood that fits across the shoulders, to carry two buckets or loads without having to hold them in the hands, and make it easier and more comfortable. Sometimes in the OT the yoke is a symbol of oppression, a heavy burden.  Jesus doesn’t say that discipleship is always easy, what he does say is that he is easy to learn from because we relate to someone gentle and humble – much easier to accept, learn from, and work for than an arrogant and harsh master.

And, yes, he does say the load is light. We take that with other sayings like taking up our cross, and perhaps remember that we should only carry what we are given. We don’t have to sort out the world, not even our family, just the life we are given.  We don’t have to solve everything, just take the opportunities we are given and use them well.

Jesus’ contemporaries wouldn’t take note of his teaching – it was too challenging, and they preferred what they knew. They wouldn’t learn from what they saw – it might mean they had to do something. And so they missed out, and made themselves liable for judgement.

We have the warning, and the opportunity. Jesus way is lighter than the burden of Old testament commandments and regulations, yet it needs to be heard, and responded to. A tennis player can be on court for hours, and still run, and think, and fight back – training and practise have made it, well, not always easy, but possible, and sometimes fun. A light yoke!