Thursday 2 July 2020

Burden of Blessing

It must have been frustrating to be Jesus, sometimes.

There’s a lengthy story in Matthew that we’ve been following for a few weeks now in which Jesus commissions the disciples to go out and be Jesus for others. So, once again, just to be clear because it’s super important to remember in this particular context: Jesus doesn’t tell them to go and be like me, he says that he gives them authority to be me. And, yes, I do tend to go on at length about how Jesus is speaking to us, too, that’s why we should all be doing Jesusing (he said, one more time).

Within that “commission,” Jesus tells them it’s not going to be easy and to expect rejection, persecution and worse. And in a classic “don’t be afraid” moment, he reminds them that God is with them, just as he is with himself, Jesus. Those who welcome the disciples, meet Jesus and experience God.

Lots don’t, it seems, and there’s a pretty immediate example. Matthew writes that Jesus goes from here to “teach and proclaim his message in their cities.” It doesn’t go well. We know it doesn’t because Jesus comments, first, that people found a way to dismiss both John the Baptist and himself by their appearance and behaviour. John came from the wilderness like a “demon” and Jesus hung out with sinners, so the people didn’t listen to their wisdom. Second, he “reproaches the cities” because he did so much there and they didn’t repent.

We might be tempted to just shake our heads at this moment of disappointment in the story and move on. Especially since we know the rest of Jesus’ story, that it gets much worse. But I think we should stop here for a moment and just wonder about how Jesus might be handling it. We may also experience in our own lives the disappointment of things not going the way we want them to, especially when we’ve put a lot of effort in and truly believe in the value of our message.

I think Jesus would have had one of those very human moments like Charlie Brown, when he seems to throw his head all the way back and shout a great “aaugh!” to the heavens. This is so much more than just a *sigh* or an “oh, good grief,” and we experience those moments, too. But Jesus doesn’t stop there, and we can’t either. 

It is frustrating being Jesus, sometimes. 

So, in those moments, I think Jesus invites his followers, including us, to let go of our slavish dedication to the letter of the law, to the structures, the institutions and the hierarchies we’ve built as a society. When we yoke ourselves to that, we carry a heavy burden of predetermining how things should be. Instead, look for what’s at the heart of it. Look to bring love and grace to lifting people up and, yes, giving them an experience of all that it means to be Jesus.

That’s why Jesus offers these words in Matthew: “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.” (Matt. 11:28-30) These aren’t just words of comfort offering a respite from things, they’re words of affirmation, inviting the Jesus in all of us to what is true. The world can give us many heavy burdens to carry that weigh us down. But the burden of Jesusing is the love which lifts hearts, inspires minds and offers hope without condition or expectation. Eugene Peterson translates these words of Jesus as an invitation “to learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” To learn that, to “yoke” ourselves to that, is a burden of blessing.