Imitating Jesus

This was the homily from this week’s worship service, delivered by Hugh Hollowell. The text was from from Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Children like to pretend to be adults. It’s one of the ways we learn how to be adults.

Children play with baby dolls, and pretend to be parents. Or they play fireman or cops and robbers or they play at their Fisher-Price kitchen with the plastic pots and pans. When I was a kid, my best friend was a guy named Paul, and I had stark blonde hair and Paul had black hair, so we would play the Dukes of Hazard, and I always had to be Bo Duke, because Bo had blonde hair.

The problem was, Bo was a little dense, so I always wanted to be Luke, his smarter, craftier cousin. Paul wouldn’t hear of it, though, because he had to be Luke, since Luke had dark hair. Later, it occurred to me that we could pretend to have a car, girlfriends and be 20 years older, but couldn’t pretend to have a different hair color. But by the time I figured that out, we no longer played together.

But pretending, imitating, that is all part of what it means to grow up, to mature, to learn.

In the passage I just read, Jesus says that this generation is like children that say ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ In their day, there would be circle dances of men at weddings, who danced to flute music, and women would act as professional mourners at funerals. So, Jesus is describing children who are pretending to do these things – the same way I would play church as a kid, complete with hymns and the offering plate – and the other children are not playing the game right. “We played the flute, but you did not dance!” “Play fair!”

This passage is a bit confusing, but it is really about imitating. About learning.

Jesus says his yoke is easy, and his burden is light.

If you plow a field with oxen, you really need two oxen – one of them is the experienced ox, and the other is the new one. They were strapped to each other with a device called a yoke. You have seen pictures of one – it looks like an upside down W. Because they were strapped to each other, the old ox taught the new ox how to plow.

The ancient Rabbi’s or teachers all taught different things. If you became a student of theirs, you attached yourself to the Rabbi, and did what he did. His teaching was his yoke, because you were strapping yourself to the Rabbi.

We don’t have Rabbi’s wandering around anymore, but we still strap ourselves to things. We see the stars on TV, with their bling and all, and we pretend to be like that, with our new cars and fancy clothes, buying things we cannot afford to impress people we do not like.

We go to the movies and see the bad guys get beat up by the good guys, and so we pretend we are like the good guys, looking for someone to beat up. The next thing you know, we have been in Iraq for 14 years.

We can’t help but to imitate someone – it is how we humans are. We learn by imitating. Jesus wants to teach us another way than the ways the world wants us to strap ourselves to. Jesus tells us his yoke, his way, is lighter. Not carrying all the baggage, the hatred, the ‘us’ and the ‘them’ that the powers that be try to get us to buy into that just weighs us down.

Instead, Jesus invites us to strap ourselves to him, to learn to live a life based on love and sacrifice.

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Hugh Hollowell

Author: Hugh Hollowell

Hugh is a Mennonite minister and the founding director of Love Wins. He likes peanut M&Ms.