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A post-homiletical discourse delivered by the Rev. Dr. James R. Beebe
Rector, St. Patrick’s Church, Incline Village, Nevada, July 3, 2011
Frank: “I wish I could lose some weight.”
Janet: “Why don't you join a gym?”
Frank: “Yes but, I can't afford the payments for a gym.”
Janet: “Why don't you speed walk around your block after you get home from work?”
Frank: “Yes but, I don't dare walk alone in my neighborhood after dark.”
Janet: “Why don't you take the stairs at work instead of the elevator?”
Frank: “Yes but, after my knee surgery, it hurts too much to walk that many flights of stairs.”
Janet: “Why don't you change your diet?”
Frank: “Yes but, my stomach is sensitive and I can tolerate only certain foods.”
In psychological circles they talk about something called “secondary gain.” If a man is sick, for example, he might feel bad, but he gets lots of sympathy and that sympathy is a motivator to stay sick. The secondary gain for Frank in the “Yes, but” game was that he could claim to have justified his problem as insoluble and thus avoid the hard work of internal change.
Here’s what Frank’s life script might have looked like. Frank grows up as the fourth child in a family of five, his mom and dad are abusive types people, having been treated like that themselves as children. Beginning when he’s about four years old, they continuously tell Frank that he will never amount to anything. To protect himself, Frank tries to blend in with his surroundings so no one will notice him.
As he grows up, he doesn’t have a lot of friends and becomes a loner. His grades in school are below average, and he doesn’t seem to apply himself to his studies. One common theme is that he often chooses the path of least resistance rather than giving himself the challenge of a new opportunity. It seems like Frank is on cruise control. By the time he graduates from high school, Frank has himself a minimum wage job at a local diner and plans to rent a room. It’s a scenario that drags on for the next ten years.
Frank’s script decisions have been made in response to family and cultural messages but based on his very limited information and reality processing skills as a child. Such a decision becomes an emotionally laden commitment to live in a certain way; in this case to live narrowly, safely – accepting his position as a loser in a world of winners.
It becomes a story that he tells himself about what's possible for him. It’s a perfect game plan for someone who never has to do anything. But he is an absolute master at ferreting out what’s wrong with any given alternative. “Yes, but.” As long as he sticks with it, life will seem to be more predictable. However, the price he pays for a sense of certainty is that he is excluding new possibilities.
This is precisely what is happening in our Gospel reading from Matthew. The problem with the translation is that it’s not immediately clear what in the heck is going on: [Jesus said] “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’”
The Beebe Rough Paraphrase sounds something like this: “You guys drive me nuts. You’re like the children in the marketplaces. They ask another group to dance and they didn’t want to. Then they asked the same group if they wanted to play ‘funerals,’ but they didn’t want to do that, either.” “Yes, but….”
Then, in the standard translation, Jesus continues: “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!’”
The Beebe Rough Paraphrase sounds something like this: “John the Baptist tried the traditional approach with his warnings and solemn tones and you blew him off, saying that he was demented. Now I come along and talk about the same things, only I’m a regular guy – we party, we hang out – and you blew me off, too, saying that I’m a lush and keep bad company.” “Yes, but….”
His parting words seem enigmatic: “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” What does that mean? It simply means that Jesus is departing from the typical “Yes, but” endgame result of having the “Yes, but’ers” making the counselor give up. Jesus doesn’t give up. He’s just saying, “We’ll see.” “We’ll see if your judgments about John the Baptist and myself are correct. And the way you can tell is by your fruits. If you don’t produce any, you lose. If I produce fruits, I win. Game on.
Now, here’s a caveat. Sometimes, after a lifetime of saying, “yes, but,” a person is actually willing to change. But, as the saying goes, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. How does Frank get there from here, having never, ever tried it? How does he grow spiritually? He wants to….
[Noah ben Shea] A child once approached Jacob the Baker and asked, “Jacob, what I don’t understand is how you are to decide whether to follow what you feel is right or what you think is right.”
Jacob touched his own chest and said, “My heart knows what my mind only thinks it knows.”
This answer pushed the boy to another question: “What if neither my heart nor mind can help me find the way?”
And Jacob answered, “Prayer is a path where there is none.”