It's Hard to Please People
Reflecting on the Third Sunday of Advent: Three Days After Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Isaiah 11:1-9
Old Testament: Micah 4:8-13
Gospel: Luke 7:31-35
God of timeless grace, you fill us with joyful expectation. Make us ready for the message that prepares the way, that with uprightness of heart and holy joy we may eagerly await the kingdom of your Son, Jesus Christ, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.
A monk joined a monastery and took a vow of silence. After the first 10 years his superior called him in and asked, “Do you have anything to say?” The monk replied, “Food bad.” After another 10 years the monk again had opportunity to voice his thoughts. He said, “Bed hard.” Another 10 years went by and again he was called in before his superior. When asked if he had anything to say, he responded, “I quit.” “It doesn't surprise me a bit. You’ve done nothing but complain ever since you got here.”
We human beings can be difficult to please. I knew someone who complained when certain people failed to give her presents for her birthday or Christmas, but when those individuals did give her gifts, she complained about the gift given, “I don’t need that!” she would most often say. I have pondered over the years whether or not chronic complaining is the result not only of a lack of gratitude, but that we don’t know what we want because we have little idea of what we need. In a society of plenty, distinguishing wants from needs can be difficult. We complain when we don’t get what we want, but when we get it we find it doesn’t satisfy because it is not something we need. It is then that we complain we don’t need it. Then we move on to the next thing that will hopefully satisfy what we long for.
In the Bible God’s people can seldom be pleased. They need freedom from slavery in Egypt. God liberates them, but the road to freedom is long and difficult. The people complain to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?” (Exodus 14:11). In the wilderness, the people construct a cover story (a continued human problem) that minimized the back-breaking work as slaves, the whip of the Egyptian task-masters, and maximized the supposed sumptuousness of their meals.
“We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” (Numbers 11:5-6).
And even after the long journey to the Promised Land was over, God’s people continue to show their dissatisfaction by hedging their bets in the worship of other gods.
Jesus confronted the same inability to please the people of his generation. He compared them to children playing the marketplace, the place where the common laborers went to be hired for the day and where the employers sought out workers. It was the place to socialize where the men would talk politics and the women would converse about the day’s events.
And of course, the children would play. They would pretend as children love to do; but one group of children was pouting, not wanting to cooperate in what to pretend. “Let’s play wedding. We will sing and dance and celebrate!” No, says the group of pouters. We don’t feel like making merry today.” OK, then let’s pretend to be at a funeral. We will wail and mourn just like the adults do and be sad.” And in perpetual dissatisfied fashion, that same group responds, “We don’t feel like being sad either.” Sometimes even children can’t be pleased.
John the Baptist came eating locusts and wild honey and not really socializing. He preached a stern message of repentance and people said he was crazy. What a killjoy, that John! Jesus came eating and drinking and celebrating and preaching that God’s Kingdom Party had now arrived, and the same people who wrote off John also wrote off Jesus, but for different reasons. “He eats too much! He drinks too much!” For Jesus, it was adults acting like children."
What would it mean for us to be content? We know that in Jesus God has given us everything needed for salvation. In contentment can we rejoice in the joy of our salvation and embrace the sometimes difficult and challenging journey of following Jesus? Can we live in the truth that discipleship is not always joyful, nor is it nothing more than drudgery? Can we hang on to the tension of following Jesus in the happiness that our Lord brings while not letting go of the sorrow we will find in walking with a crucified Savior?
Knowing that Jesus is all-sufficient, can we live in the kind of contentment that only Jesus can give? Can we be pleased?
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