Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Jesus said to the crowd, "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.'
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!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds."
At that time Jesus said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
The house we live in is old and over the past seven years we’ve done a considerable amount of work to it. However, on some occasions we did more than we had anticipated. For example there was the dining room. It had this very cheap wainscoting that was coming off. So one day Robyn is headed into town and I say, “Pick up some paint for the dining room. I’m going to pull this wainscoting off and then we can paint it up nice.” Robyn had been gone for about twenty minutes when I called her up and said, “Pick up a shopvac while you are there.” “Why?” “You don’t want to know.”… What had happened?.. when I pulled the wainscoting off, the wall came with it. That simple paint job took about four weeks. When you’ve got an hour or two, I’ll tell you about how the remodel of the kitchen led to the complete gutting and remodel of the upstairs bathroom… If I see another cast iron sewer pipe in the next 50 years it will be too soon.
We’ve all had these types of instances.. it is a bit of a domino effect. Do this.. then this happens.. causing that to go.. and on and on. What started off as a simple chore ends up a great burden…. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens” and we know that the burden he was referring to was the burden of the Law given to Moses for the people and the priesthood.. and like that domino effect.. one point of the law always led up to another point of the law where all the various laws had a tendency to stack up on themselves…
There is Jewish parable told by a Rabbi that demonstrates how burdensome the Law actually was… the Rabbi says.. "There was a poor widow in my neighborhood who had two daughters and a field. When she began to plough, Moses (i.e. the Law of Moses) said, `You must not plough with an ox and an ass together.' When she began to sow, he said, `You must not sow your field with mingled seed.' When she began to reap and to make stacks of corn, he said, `When you reap your harvest in your field, and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it' (Deut.24:19), and `you shall not reap your field to its very border' (Lev.19:9). She began to thresh, and he said, `Give me the heave-offering, and the first and second tithe.' She accepted the ordinance and gave them all to him.
What did the poor woman then do? She sold her field, and bought two sheep, to clothe herself from their fleece, and to have profit from their young. When they bore their young, Aaron (i.e. the demands of the priesthood) came and said, `Give me the first-born.' So she accepted the decision, and gave them to him. When the shearing time came, and she sheared them, Aaron came and said, `Give me the first of the fleece of the sheep' (Deut.18:4). Then she thought: `I cannot stand up against this man. I will slaughter the sheep and eat them.' Then Aaron came and said, `Give me the shoulder and the two cheeks and the stomach' (Deut.18:3). Then she said, `Even when I have killed them I am not safe from you. Behold they shall be devoted.' Then Aaron said, `In that case they belong entirely to me' (Num.18:14). He took them and went away and left her weeping with her two daughters."
The Law was the burden that the people were carrying and to that Jesus says, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
There is a legend concerning Jesus which tells of his carpenter years. The legend claims that Jesus was one of the master yoke-makers and folks came from miles around for a yoke, hand carved and crafted by him.
When customers ordered the yokes they brought the oxen with them and Jesus would take precise measurements.. after a week or so the owner would return with the oxen and Jesus would carefully place the newly made yoke over the shoulders of the oxen.. then he would “fine tune” the yokes.. removing rough spots.. smoothing out edges that would eventually rub sores.. making the yokes a perfect match for that pair of oxen.
When Jesus says, “my yoke is easy”.. a more accurate translation of the Greek would be “well-fitting”.. my yoke is well-fitting.. Jesus is not saying that there will be nothing for us to carry, because we also know that Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”.. the burden – that is the cross – must be carried, but it is one that can be borne by us.
So.. we are no longer burdened by the Law as given by Moses.. we have exchanged that for the yoke of Christ which is well fitting and light. But.. if this is true – which it is – then why do so many of us still carry around such heavy burdens? Such heavy loads?... If you dare look in the mirror, you’ll see the answer. So often.. the yoke over our shoulders is not the one that has been tailored made by Christ.. it is the one we’ve made ourselves and consists of our inability to receive the unconditional love of God.
You all know the story of the Prodigal Son.. received his inheritance before his father’s death and went off and squandered it. Ended up broke and starving. So he says, I will return to my father and be a servant, because at least his servants are treated well… and the scripture says he returns.. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him…” and what did his father do?… He yelled at him and said, “Step one foot on this property and you’re a dead man”… No.. Scripture says that the father “was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”.. yet we hear that passage.. and we can’t imagine that it is speaking about us.. Oh sure.. it is true for everyone else, but not me… We can’t sort it out in our minds and our hearts that Jesus would allow ME to exchange the burden of my self-made yoke for the love of God.
That parable of the woman and her two daughters that explained the continuous demands of the Law.. well, we are no longer under that Law, but that parable is representative of the continuous demands – the conditions – we place on ourselves before allowing ourselves to receive God’s love… “I can accept God’s love if I do this,” but once we have done “that”.. then we say, “God would love me if only I could be forgiven of this”.. and once we finally forgive ourselves we say, “I will be accepted by God when.. if.. after.. etc… etc.. etc.
Think back on the story of Lazarus.. the one that Jesus raised from the dead.. brother of Mary and Martha... Jesus arrives at the tomb of Lazarus and tells those gathered there to roll away the stone, but Martha objects, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been there four days.”… Jesus says to us, “Live! Throw down your burdens and accept my love” and we say, “Lord, I can’t. I’ve been dead in sin for so long that I stink.”… and we don’t believe that we are ones who are worthy to receive the life… the love that he is offering.
Thomas Merton asked the question of himself, “Who am I?”.. and then he wrote the answer, “I am one loved by Christ.”… We must divorce ourselves from those self imposed burdens.. we must throw them off and learn to say with Merton, “I am one loved by Christ.”… say that with me… “I am one loved by Christ.”.. believe it….. Yes.. we were dead.. there was a stench, but we have been raised with Christ because of God’s great love for us. We are given new life… “the old order of things has passed away.”
Yes.. there is the burden of your own cross that you must bear, but it is well-fitted for you.. and it is not a burden that is carried out of command or compunction.. it is one that is carried out of love.. and there is a difference.. as a Rabbi stated, “My burden is become my song.”.. or think of that story of an older man who sees a young boy carrying a lame boy on his back and commenting, “That’s a heavy burden for you to carry.”… to which the young boy responds.. “He’s not heavy – anyone care to finish that one? – he’s my brother.”… The burden given to us by Jesus is given in love.. and if received in love, it will never be heavy… Set down your self imposed burdens.. and receive the love of God.
Let us pray… God, our Father, may we love You in all things and above all things. May we reach the joy which You have prepared for us in Heaven. Nothing is good that is against Your Will, and all that is good comes from Your Hand. Place in our hearts a desire to please You and fill our minds with thoughts of Your Love, so that we may grow in Your Wisdom and enjoy Your Peace. Amen.