Romans 8: 9, 11-13; Matthew 11: 25-30
From the time we are kids, we are taught to “pay attention” to certain things. Of course, as kids it’s necessary because it often keeps us safe and secure even from perceived dangers. However, as we age, it often grows into judgment, stereotype, even guilt and shame, that seems to dominate our lives where we begin to think what we have paid attention to is truth. But over that time, despite some of its necessity early on, it begins to overshadow who we really are, hide our truest self from ourselves, often distorting our image of God, but also separating and dividing us not only from others but from ourselves as well. It makes it nearly impossible to deal with problems because we try to fix what was caused by it in the first place.
It’s that place of hiddenness and what has been overshadowed where Jesus tries to lead the disciples in today’s gospel when he speaks of what has been hidden from the wise and learned but rather revealed to the little ones. As is often the case, he’s speaking after an experience with the Pharisees where they once again found themselves in conflict with one another. One way in which what we “pay attention” to rears its head is when things aren’t good enough or it’s never enough because the Pharisees continue to look through life through a rather narrow lens, which is what happens to all of us over time. When it came to John the Baptist, they had problems. When it comes to Jesus, it’s still not good enough for them. More often than not they weren’t paying attention to the right things and got so caught up in the law that they become blinded. It creates this tension and conflict and eventually to the violent act of the crucifixion. He doesn’t necessarily react to their way but rather tries to expand the lens and understanding, which they often weren’t able to see but saw him as a threat to their way of life and thinking for that matter.
Whether you know it or not, it’s also what Paul speaks of in the second reading today to the Romans. It’s probably one of the most misinterpreted passages in all his letters because we try to keep it only skin deep. We probably have all heard it interpreted as “sins of the flesh”. Like kids, that may work for a period in our lives, but that’s not the deeper meaning to what Paul is speaking of nor is it what he’s challenging them to pay attention to in their lives. If we take out the word “flesh” from the passage and insert words like ego, what we pay attention to, or even that Pharisee within us, that’s more the point that Paul is trying to make. Getting trapped in that place in our lives often leads to conflict and even hostility towards God and others. It’s not a deeper life in the spirit as he speaks of, but one of conflict. It ultimately is what Paul tries in his writings to lead people to learn to let go of; not their body, but their control tower, their ego, what they have been conditioned to pay attention to and yet now stands as an obstacle, which in other letters he also calls it. This point where we don’t feel satisfied or things are never good enough, for Paul, is recognition that we aren’t living from the right place, from the divine, from the Christ within our very souls. If we want to seek solutions to a world of problems, we must first be willing to make that journey ourselves and face our own violence and blindness.
It is the invitation that Jesus gives to the disciples and to us today as the gospel continues. He says to come to him all who labor and are burdened. Come to me all of you that are struggling in one way or another. This invitation isn’t just about handing our problems over to God and somehow they disappear. No, the invitation that Jesus gives is to move beyond the struggle, often defined by what we pay attention to, and move to the place of the Christ and learn to live from that place. It is the place where the judgement and stereotype, division and separation, begins to disappear. It is a journey inward and a journey downward, and quite frankly, a journey that takes great humility to finally begin to admit that maybe what I have paid attention to is not the fuller picture. It’s learning to live our lives inward out rather than the outward appearance of things defining us, who we are, and what we do. It is a path that is quite difficult but the only path to a fuller life and where we finally become agents of change in the world.
All too often we try to deal with problems in this city, community, country, and world, by doing the same thing. It leads to people butting heads and as we have seen in this city, a great deal of violence. We are trying to solve problems with what separates and divides rather than moving to this deeper place within ourselves that unites us with God, others, and even ourselves. This city and our lives do not need more separation and division and certainly do not need more violence. But it will continue if we try to fix things by an old mindset. The healing begins with me and you. The healing begins when I can finally begin to ask myself, “What am I paying attention to?” and is it leading to healing, reconciliation, forgiveness, and a more loving posture towards God and people or does it simply dig in my heels and lead to further violence. If our faith and our religion are going to have any impact on our lives, it’s going to require change on our part, change in what we pay attention to, and be led to the deeper places of our lives, people of spirit and soul. That is how we begin to make a difference here and everywhere, including our own families, in becoming the agents of change, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, while learning to let go of what only continues to separate and divide. There’s no more time for any of that. It’s time for a new way, a deeper way of living where we bridge differences and live lives filled with love, healing, and forgiveness. First and foremost, what is it you find yourself paying attention to in life?