Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, July 6, 2014

This week, my friend Lynne found out that her mother had fallen and may have broken a wrist and a hip. Her mother is deep into Alzheimer’s and recovering from a broken hip carries with it a lot of movement restrictions and a lot of exercise. Her mom clearly cannot do this alone, so they would need to have 24-hour care for her. They can’t afford it. In addition, they need to redo their bathrooms before leakage becomes a problem and her husband also has a medical issue that may require surgery. She sounded so overwhelmed and burdened when I talked to her on Wednesday.

She is not alone. We all carry heavy burdens we wish we could get some help with and we can’t. They may have to do with our children, our jobs, our health or just surviving the rat race that is living in the Washington area. We would like to be able to say, “Aah” as we can when someone takes our heavy grocery bags from us, picks up the other end of an unwieldy case of water or takes the snow shovel out of our hands and does the work. But we can’t. We feel those emotional and spiritual burdens keenly, and sometimes they go on for a very long time. Yet, here is Jesus, who has the nerve to say that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. What in the world is he talking about? Jesus, who has laid the burdens of discipleship on us too, including rejection, persecution, loving our enemies and losing our lives to save them? What does he know about making burdens easy and light and giving us rest for our souls?

First, he knows about the burdens we are carrying as disciples. He knows about rejection and persecution. Jesus and John the Baptist have come at the good news of the kingdom of God from different angles. John has harangued the people as an Old Testament prophet would and told everyone to repent or judgment will be swift and deadly. John called some people a “brood of vipers” and insisted they bear fruit worthy of repentance. People said John was demon-possessed. Who else but someone possessed by demons would eat bugs and wear uncomfortable clothing and proclaim a fierce scene of judgment? Jesus came eating and drinking and partying with people who were unwelcome in other places – tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes. He changed water into wine at a wedding feast. People called him a glutton and a drunkard and bad-mouthed him for hanging around with the wrong people. Most people didn’t want to know anything from him or from John.

Jesus’ parable about the children in the street mirrors this rejection. The children are petulant and whiny. “We played wedding music and you did not dance”, they say to the other children. “We wailed and you did not mourn”. You didn’t do what we wanted you to do when we wanted you to do it. You did not say what we wanted to hear. You did not approach us with enough reverence for our status as God’s people. They rejected both Jesus (the ultimate wedding guest) and John (the ultimate mourner). With the children yelling back and forth to each other, the game becomes not a rejection game but a “who is going to win this argument” game. The people have moved away from the discomfort of John and Jesus to a more comfortable thing for them to do, which is to debate among themselves. Picture the scribes arguing over the meaning of a passage in the Torah where the goal becomes winning and not really getting a good interpretation of the Law.

Jesus also knows about the constant weariness of the burdens of life as a child of God. He knows what carrying the cross is like. He knows he will lose his life to save us by carrying the burden of our sins to the cross. He carries the heavy burden of having to teach and preach and heal enough so that he can gather a small band of disciples to follow him on his mission. He knows about the brokenness of the world and the impossibility of healing it by human will alone.

In addition to knowing what we face, Jesus knows who God is. God has revealed God’s plan to Jesus and Jesus alone. It is up to him to reveal that plan to those he chooses. God is self-revealing; human knowledge, no matter how many good things it accomplishes on earth, cannot reach God; God must reach out and touch humanity with God’s love and grace and mercy and judgment. God must say, “Here I am” because even those of us who consider ourselves the wisest and most knowledgeable cannot say, “There you are”. Even if we study the scriptures all day long and read good stories about God and how God feels about us, we can never truly grasp the infinite except through revelation.

And Jesus knows who we are. We are children whining in the streets. We want what we want when we want it. We want our lives to be easy, our problems to be few, and we work very hard to achieve that goal. But we get caught up in what the broken world is really like and end up with heavy burdens and aching hearts. Jesus hurts because his revelation of God cannot touch us while we are concentrating on our own achievements to grasp a successful life. But sometimes, there are innocents. Sometimes there are people willing to be humble and teachable. These are the people Jesus can reveal God to and they will listen. They have no illusions about their knowledge and are often on the margins of society. They know they are broken and burdened and need help. They have holes in their souls they have not filled up with other things, and Jesus can come to them and reveal God.

To those of us who listen, Jesus offers a partnership. He offers us rest, not from the work of discipleship, but from the things that are weighing us down. He does not offer us relief from loving God and neighbor. What he offers is to help us carry our yoke – the yoke that is so heavy around our necks that we cannot stand it another minute but are afraid we will have to endure it by ourselves for a long time. But Jesus is meek and lowly of heart – he is obedient to God and wants to help us be obedient to God as well, especially in the most desperate times of our life.

He says the yoke is easy. A better translation of the Greek would be kind and useful. Jesus offers  kindness and encouragement as we carry out our baptismal vows in the world, in spite of rejection or persecution or heavy troubles. Jesus also says his burden is light. In his generation, he is probably talking about his interpretation of Torah (in the next scene he eats grain and heals the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath) as opposed to the religious leaders, with all the additional rules that have been included in the law. That isn’t relevant in our day, but what is relevant is that relying on Jesus, trusting in him, will indeed make it easier to bear those unbearable burdens and we will feel our load lightened when he enters the yoke with us. We will find rest for our souls, not because we do not have any problems, but because we are at peace with the knowledge that Jesus will help us handle them.

So how do we become people that Jesus can reveal the Father to, so we know God and seek God’s wisdom and love consistently in our lives? We have to become like infants. It is much harder to become as an infant than to be one in the first place as Jesus’ disciples and the social outcasts he interacted with were. To become an innocent, we must first give up any pretention that we can know God by something our head tells us. Our heart knowledge is always our way to God. Therefore, our hearts have to be open and available to receive Jesus as God’s revelation of Godself, of the God who is willing to help us in the difficult business of life as disciples. Opening our hearts is a different thing that we usually do. We need to put down everything we have and find that hole in our soul that only God can fill. We need to stop filling it with things ourselves and listen to the teachings we receive from the scripture, receive the nourishment we get from the Eucharist and take quiet time with the express purpose of listening for God’s voice. We need to be humble. Then we will be able to receive Jesus as partner and friend and yoke-mate, feel our burdens lightened and find rest for our souls.


     - Rev. Ann Barker