Romans 7:15-25a, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
There is a funny differentiation in today’s gospel. Jesus makes a distinction between the wise and intelligent, and infants. What is true about this is that not everyone is considered wise and intelligent but everyone is, or at least was, once an infant. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say these infants or those infants, he implies all infants. From this, I gather that everyone has been born with the ability to know, love, and obey the Father ~ but we don’t. The wise and intelligent seem to have more of a difficult time knowing the father. Maybe we have seen this with certain scientists who are not willing to be open to the idea of a supreme being, or public servants who are unwilling to follow the most basic tenants of the Christian faith yet call themselves Christians. With intelligence often comes the ability to make things more difficult than needed. Even Albert Einstein said that “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” He is saying that we need to find the simplest explanations without oversimplifying; the true meaning needs to be maintained.
It is possible that we need to unlearn certain things before we can follow Christ at the deepest level. We are heavily burdened by many things in our lives. This burden goes beyond family responsibilities; beyond work pressures. We subject ourselves to some of these burdens through other people’s negativities as well as commercial advertisements. Corporations have spent millions of dollars to determine how an ad campaign will affect us on a psychological level. They do this to make us think that we want or need what we really do not. To make us desire the newer and better thing even though the old is perfectly adequate. We get an itch for things we didn’t know we needed and we fall into their trap. The trap isn’t just that we want what we don’t have but that we as a person are incomplete without the item or that we are a lesser person if we do not use their product.
To change our thought patterns we have to unlearn what we have been told over and over again. We hear all the time that we are less than. We are less than beautiful. We are not wealthy enough. By not doing this or buying that, we are less than lovable or a poor parent. Some of our friends are not much better; they make negative comments about other people. These comments are truly judgments based on the clothing the person wears; the car that they drive; the neighborhood they live in; the color of their skin, or even the way they speak. Even though these comments are not about you, we listen to them or join in on the negativity. By doing this we artificially lift ourselves up above the person that we are looking down on; a person who is made equally in God’s image. This hurts us, because we then may perceive that others are speaking about us in a similar way. Thus I need to dress better, live in a nicer house, or whatever it is so that people won’t look down on me. This is a yoke that we are often all too happy to put on. It brings us down. It lowers our self-image, and as I’m sure we all know from personal experience, it can be quite painful.
There are other burdens in life. Some are not self-imposed such as poverty, illness, and loss. These burdens can also be yokes. They can bring us down, lower our self-esteem, and make us think that we are less than others. We are not. Julia Roberts and Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson might be People magazine's most beautiful or sexy persons of the year. But we are not called to compete with others in such a way; this amounts to grabbing a yoke and harnessing ourselves to an immense burden. When we accept ourselves for who we are, for how God made us to be, we accept others more easily as well. When we do not carry around a cloud of negativity, we do not project this negativity onto others. We see others for who God made them to be, just as we see ourselves; perfect in his sight.
Jesus says we are to take his yoke, for his burden is light. By putting on the yoke of Christ we find that we are truly loved; we are completely sufficient as a human being. Whether we are born with a physical disability or have the biceps of Dwayne Johnson, either way, we are perfect in God’s site.
The truth is that we can only put on one yoke at a time. So when we put on the yoke of Christ we have to lay down our heavily burned yoke that the world expects us to carry. The yoke that Christ has for us is much easier. Obviously, this yoke I speak of is a metaphor for living our lives in Christ. And just because we find Christ and follow him doesn’t mean life becomes easy, or simple. Life is complicated and difficult. And seeing the path Christ sets before us is different than walking that path. Saint Paul sounds tormented by this very idea. He says, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” He wrestles with doing what he should be doing and being in sin; doing what he knows he should not. He basically says there is no way to escape this type of sin. Though I may not be completely on board with his very dualistic view; that the things of the mind are good and the things of the flesh are bad, I do believe that I understand what he is trying to say.
Through our weakness and faults; through our human nature, we enjoy the things that are not good for us both spiritually and physically. When we catch ourselves doing sinful things, we can still find our salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. We can set down our yoke of sin and pick up the yoke of Christ in which our burden is lessened. Again, this doesn’t mean that we won’t just pass by a yoke that is decorated in bling and looks so cool and inviting to try. But when we put it on and find that we are weighed down again Christ is still there, with the light yoke, just waiting to take the weight of the world off of our shoulders.
The wise and intelligent people of Jesus’ day wanted him to sing and dance on command. They wanted him to play by their rules, but he wouldn’t. They said John the Baptist was possessed by a demon, even though he didn’t eat or drink excessively. And they call Christ a drunkard and a friend of sinners. These wise and intelligent people made up the rule to suit their own needs; not to serve God or the people; they do it for their self-interest. And they expect us to do the same. They want us to follow their rules, do what they say, put on that yoke that weighs as much as a Cadillac. Don’t worry about the weight because it makes you so fashionable. It will make you happy or bring contentment to your family, they say. But Christ says “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest,” the inner peace and contentment that you are looking for.