“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.” Matthew 11:29
In Part I of this series, we journeyed and surveyed the hardships of doing the work of Jesus among the marginalized. Yet we left each other with the hopeful thought that is found in Matthew’s Gospel wherein the “yoke is easy and burden light.” Perhaps these two ideas may seem at odds. Perhaps they are. Perhaps for the Evangelists a different Jesus was experienced.
Which Jesus might you/we experience?
I suspect that at any given time in our day, our lives, it might be either Jesus or perhaps both. Or even more. Perhaps Jesus is a tyrant who screams and condemns. That makes three Jesuses: one who carries our burdens; one who puts burdens of justice on our shoulders; and one who marginalizes. Which Jesus do you experience?
I know a man who owns a bar. He’s a delightful fellow. He has a kind face that is most welcoming. This wonderful man is moderate in his view of the world and questions a lot of what is going on re race relations, politics, and so on. I believe him to be a moderate. He happens to be gay which is nothing that should fully define us.
Every two weeks or so he shows up at our Food Pantry. He enjoys the company of others doing this work. It has become a small community of friends over time. He spends several hours of his day packing food. He has also distributed food to those whom our Pantry supports. He does not want notoriety, nor does he want even a little acknowledgement. This man simply wants to enjoy the friendships that he has built in this Food Pantry community and he wants to do some good.
He has attended worship on occasion but no one would call him “churchy.” He reminds me so much of our Gospel of Matthew’s reading for Ash Wednesday:
“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others….But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
He is “giving alms” surely but he does so “in secret” and his reward is internal. My guess is that this servant sleeps well at night.
I know another fellow traveler along “The Way.” This man is also a delight. He’s from Alabama and is one of the most fun-loving guys I know. He is a retired teacher, and he also loves to sing in a choir. He happens to be gay and has enjoyed a wonderful marriage to a very sweet man.
I also know that he likes to party with friends and eat at a lot of local restaurants. Before COVID, I knew of his copious eating habits because he would post his brunches on Facebook with great regularity.
He spends time packing “Blessing bags” and encouraging his husband who distributes them. They are a team. He also offers time doing data entry work at the church as a volunteer freeing up others to do community work. He absolutely does not seek attention or even a compliment. He does so because, quite simply, that is who he is, and he is motivated by his faith. Again, he prays in “secret” and gives his alms, his time, in “secret.” Like our first friend, he sleeps well at night.
The list of people just like these two is long. Listing them all would be akin to what we call “The Litany of Saints. ” The cross that they take up is light because the payoff is deep and spiritual, and assures us that we are doing good things. Doing this work can remove us from “the rat race.” It can help us internally by creating in us a “clean heart” as the psalmist sings:
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
The metaphor of taking up a cross is bold and should be read as a radical statement. Think about the cross, think about what Jesus did that resulted in being hung on the cross, think about what Jesus said while on the cross—radical stuff.
To take up your cross may require going against “social norms.” But equally, it can and will often provide comfort for the soul. “For my burden is easy and my yoke is light” is a door that opens the possibilities of a world in genuine love, in genuine care, in genuine service to others. The benefits of which can and has in so many cases changed the world.
As of this writing, over 1,800 MREs have been given out to the hungry. What a delight it is to know that today or tomorrow someone is less hungry because they came to our door.
One of them is named Matthew. He’s a 20something who is homeless. His mother is an Episcopal priest in California —keep him in your prayers. As far as that third Jesus goes–the hater, the marginalizer, the name caller–that Jesus does not exist, not really. Instead, read and understand Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he understood this “yoke”, this “cross”, this Jesus, when he wrote:
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”