Scripture for 9 July: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 45:10-17; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Anyone who has experienced a gifted child will understand that their point of reference for ability is not the same as for others. It takes time for them to come to terms with the idea that their excellence is not the normal level for others. I knew a choir director who had “perfect pitch” – who could not deal with the transposing ability of an electronic organ, but who could transpose keys in his head! And a boy who had difficulty dealing with the fallibility of his fellow thespians in a play because he could remember not only his own lines, but theirs, too – and when they made mistakes, it threw him off.
Jesus was gifted in terms of his ability to communicate with God, hear God’s voice, and understand God’s will. He had to learn how to adapt this connection to make him accessible to his followers. While his contemporaries tried to develop wisdom and piety through intense and devoted study, something beyond most first century Israelites, Jesus suggested a simpler method of learning, one that is intrinsically within all of us: to become like children, and learn by copying.
In fact, the concept of apprenticeship is founded upon this notion, that we learn best by emulation, and it is the way in which children learn from earliest childhood. Jesus found that worked, and that those who accepted in humility the opportunity to learn as children were those least sophisticated: the poor, the tax collectors, sinners, ordinary people.
Those most gifted musically (the choir director mentioned earlier, or John Bell) who have an ability to teach are most successful not by trying to turn others into expert musicians, but by giving something simple to copy. Jesus understood this. As a counterpoint to what the Pharisees of his time had termed “the yoke,” namely the self-imposition of a discipline of following the Jewish Law with all its extrapolations, Jesus suggested a simpler yoke: one of following him and his teaching as a way of life – by emulation.
Of course, this can be challenging. How many of us can claim – even, say, in just the past week – flawlessly to have loved God and loved our neighbours as ourselves, as in Jesus’ simplification of the Law? To do so means opening ourselves not only to accept the radical, indiscriminate embrace of Jesus, but also to be practitioners of it.
I wonder whether we would quite like following Christ to be complicated and difficult, because then we would have an excuse not only for failing to live up to it, but for not even trying in the first place!
Our lives cannot be based upon conforming to other people’s expectations of us, nor upon following a complicated set of rules (or failing to do so). Our life’s goal, if we really want to practise the faith of Christ, is to emulate the controversial, radical, justice-seeking, law-breaking, lavish-love-giving Jesus, who shook up the authorities, challenged unfair systems and death-dealing policies, but also lived life to enjoy it to the full, even while engaging critically with it.