Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras Stereotyping: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 July 5, 2020
When I went to my seminary in Chicago, most of my colleagues, staff, and professors assumed that I was a Muslim or a Muslim who converted to Christianity. One of the staff tried to convert me to Christianity. They stereotyped that all Middle Easterners are Muslims, women must cover their heads, they do not eat pork, camel is their transportation, and of course, they are terrorists. I was stereotyped based on my ethnicity and gender. Those colleagues and staff made assumptions about me before they got to know me. Stereotyping is defined as “beliefs about the characteristics, attributes, and behaviors of members of certain groups.” Stereotyping could lead to harassment and discriminatory situations at school, workplace, and church. How many times have you been misunderstood and characterized in ways that do not describe who you indeed are?
The scribes and Pharisees stereotyped Jesus Christ and John the Baptist. They saw John the Baptist living in the wilderness and eating what he found and abstaining from wine. John the Baptist did not fit their category of a normal person. He did not drink wine or attend banquets, so they thought that John was exceedingly weird and concluded that he must be possessed by a demon. In contrary to John, our Lord Jesus Christ accepted invitations to parties, ate, and drank wine. He accompanied the tax collectors and sinners to share the good news with them. The religious leaders criticized him and accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard. They stereotyped John and Jesus and did not see them for who they really were. They did not spend time with them and learn who they are. The religious leaders wanted nothing to do with them.
Jesus uses a Palestinian proverb and customs to illustrate the religious leaders' rejection of John and Jesus. “According to customs among children, boys invited their companions to dance at weddings, and girls sang laments at funerals and invited their friends to mourn.” Using this proverb, Jesus explains that the religious leaders rejected John’s message of repentance and mourning and Jesus’ festive invitation. As a result of their rejection, our Lord Jesus Christ accuses them of lacking wisdom and understanding. If they had wisdom, they would have realized that Jesus Christ is the Son of Man and the coming Messiah. What was the problem of the scribes and the Pharisees?
The Pharisees and scribes rejected Jesus because they were conservative. They followed the law and their traditions, that is their interpretation of the law. In other words, they were legalists. They expected the Jews, including Jesus Christ and John the Baptist, to obey their traditions. The yoke is a symbol of the law and the Pharisees’ tradition.
In biblical and Jewish tradition, a yoke is often a metaphor for religious instruction. In some cases, the yoke represents the commandments of the Torah that define what it means to live in a covenant relationship with the Lord (see Acts 15:10; Gal 5:1). In others, it represents the counsel of divine Wisdom that guides men and women toward pious and prosperous living (see Sir 6:25; 51:26). Jesus probably had both traditions in mind when he spoke of “my yoke” (11:29-30).
The Torah is associated with wisdom. Jesus compares himself with wisdom. His yoke that is his teaching is not heavy. The Pharisees burdened people with unimportant rules and issues. To those Jesus says, “28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Jesus becomes wisdom. His teaching is not a burden on us. On the contrary, his teaching brings rest to our souls. Jesus is not a harsh and strict teacher, but as a gentle teacher, he helps us to carry his teaching. Getting to know Jesus means obtaining wisdom.
“In a world where the truth is often presented as debatable, and lies are painted as truth, we can become weary. The truth does matter. Truth is the beginning of wisdom. It is a starting point for us to live fruitful lives.” Lacking truth or not trying to get to know our neighbor will create stereotypes. We become weary and burdened by our fears. Fears from our neighbor who looks different than us. Getting to know our neighbor will clear your mind of false assumptions and prejudice.
Jesus invites us to come to him with all our burdens, and he will take care of us. Applying his teaching to our lives helps us to welcome our neighbors as they are and without judgment. In this way, we become free from the burden of prejudice and stereotyping.
 Coutts, L. M., Gruman, J. A., & Schneider, F. W. (2017). Applied social psychology understanding and addressing social and practical problems (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
 Mitch, Curtis; Edward Sri. Gospel of Matthew, The (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture) (pp. 159-160). Baker Academic. Kindle Edition.
 Mitch, Curtis; Edward Sri. Gospel of Matthew, The (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture) (pp. 160-161). Baker Academic. Kindle Edition.