Sermon, Trinity V, 9 July 2023 – the Vicar

My father, whom I am sorry you did not know, because he died about a year before we came here, was full of funny sayings, which continue make me smile when I think of them.

Dad would not eat pork, ham or sausages without English mustard, French would not do, neither Meaux nor Dijon. The suggestion of mustard with either lamb or beef would always elicit his oft used dictum “Mustard with mutton is the sign of a glutton, mustard with beef is the sign of the thief.”

I was reminded of this and smiled again when recently Beatrice was recommended a thoroughly good recipe website, with really good ideas for supper Mustard with Mutton – Diary of a Glutton – do take this away as a top tip.

Of course, in today’s Gospel Our Lord caricatures himself as glutton:

“For 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, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”

He goes on to say “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” What’s going on here?

First of all, where are we in Matthew’s Gospel narrative: Jesus’s preaching ministry follows on from the confirmation of the 12. At much this time, John the Baptist is arrested, and John sends from prison his disciples to see Jesus. John’s fate seems to be attracting opprobrium, despite the sensation he had been. Jesus begins today’s reading slightly despairing “What do  people want? On the one hand you had the ascetic Baptist who ate and drank nothing and on the other hand you have me, who is happy to go to outcasts and sinners and enjoy a party, and you’re not happy with either. What’s this like, well it’s like children playing make believe games, who could pretend a jolly game like a wedding

“saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced”

Or one the other hand a sad game, like a funeral procession, which you would probably see every day in the market place, going by, and it would be easy to imitate with the exaggerated dirges of the professional mourners verging on something over the top

“we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.”

Like children (without screens in those days), who just won’t get into the imaginative spirit, nothing is good enough for a bit of pretend or imagine or dream.

And so John is dismissed and Jesus derided. You recalcitrant market-place-children, just won’t dream a little.

Jesus is pretty clear that “this generation” is not just missing the point, it’s going to miss the boat too.

There’s something self-conscious about this reference to himself as a glutton and drunkard, which is not just about Jesus liking his food, or his mustard with 1st century mutton.

Bear with me, this glutton and drunkard saying has a pre-history: There’s a rather chilling example of what happens to rebellious sons in the Book of Deuteronomy chapter 20:

“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father and mother…. they shall say to the elders of the city, this our son is stubborn and rebellious, he is a glutton and a drunkard. Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death.”

It is not just that Jesus loves a good dinner; he realises that he is being cast as THE stubborn and rebellious SON, the inaccurate and inexplicable euphemism for this is gluttony and drunkenness. Thus, forebodingly Jesus foresees that he will be rejected and put to death.

There are several ironies in this passage. The children at the start of the reading just won’t play. They’re so busy with other preoccupations, that they won’t dance to either the tune of JBAP or Jesus, both of whom exemplify the truth at the heart of the dance. But they are not really the children this is all about, they are really the adults – this generation, the Children of Israel, who will not see perhaps because they are so caught up in their righteousness and sense of self importance what the Kingdom’s message is proclaiming.

But there are other children referred to in this story this morning. Not children actually, but infants – very little ones, about them Jesus says:

I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. 

The market place children are too full of care, they are the wise and prudent. It’s the babes that all truth is being revealed to. They who should not understand are being offered it all on a plate, indeed their burdens are in the process of being lifted.

It’s no accident that in the first lesson that the Messiah appears as a humble man, on an equally humble beast of burden. This sets the tone for what the Lord’s coming kingdom will be characterised by, and made evident, as Jesus himself enters Jerusalem in like manner in the time ahead. In the meanwhile Jesus says to the infants:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

The irony here of course is not just about the children not being children but grown ups, but what Jesus is offering rest, and an easy burden, is actually rather more than that. His light burden which he offers his infants, is his cross, he’ll tell us this very directly in chapter 16 “if any will come after me let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.”

But because Jesus takes this freely, willingly and lightly himself, so he is strengthening our arms and our shoulders, and most importantly our resolve so that we might

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

 

 

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