Jeremiah 22:13-16; Psalm 148:7-14; Galatians 6:14-18; Matthew 11:25-30
As we commemorate St. Francis, even in the midst of hurricane events, it seems appropriate that I recall a story that includes a dog. It was Good Friday, about an hour before the noon liturgy was to begin. I was the rector and officiant. My frantic spouse came to me at the office across the yard from the rectory to say our two- year-old son was nowhere to be found. I must confess that I did have a nano-second of thought concerning the upcoming service, but that disappeared instantly as clarity came with my awareness that at that moment there was nothing more important than finding my child.
That kind of clarity in life is not often the norm. St. Francis apparently had it when he renounced all material values and devoted himself in service to the poor. So often I find myself in a pattern of meeting one obligation only to be confronted by another. I struggle to hold it all in balance. I will be working a few extra hours at my desk, thinking about the folks I need to contact. Then I make those contacts and still wonder how I will catch up with what is on my desk. You know the drill. It’s not always like this, but it is often enough, and that nagging voice of work harder, work longer, you are still behind, does not abate. But at that moment when Peter could not be found, there were no competing voices. There was only mine saying, “Please God, may he be safe and sound.”
My clarity was driven by an emergency, not unlike what I saw in the Mayor and Sheriff and other emergency personnel with whom I spoke over the last couple of days. What prompted Jesus’ clarity when he said that his “yoke is easy and burden light?” Wholly committed to the Kingdom of God, “gentle and humble of heart” in the sense that everything was subsumed for him in that reality, he could never know a moment in which he should be anywhere or anyone other than where and who he was. Even as he knew well all of the desperation and pain around him, his yoke was easy and his burden light.
Is this some kind of cruel joke? Can any of us picture Jesus and his “easy yoke” without confronting the image of him bowed beneath the yoke of the horizontal beam of the state sanctioned executioner’s cross, a “yoke” so difficult that he requires assistance to carry it to Golgotha? Where is the lightness in that?
Only one answer seems to make sense. It is the lightness of his clarity to love beyond all requirement, beyond all circumstance, beyond all convention, beyond all expectation. It is light in the sense that his purpose and priority is always clear: to love the lost back into life. To use St. Paul’s words, bringing about “the new creation was everything.”
Note Jesus’ words to “Take my yoke upon you.” As in most of his teaching, he places himself in opposition to much of what passes for wisdom. Too often we end up breaking the yokes of the very relationships to which God calls us and reject mercy and forgiveness and sacrifice as inconvenient and more than that for which we have time or can give attention.
Detachment is the key, although if you look at Jesus on the cross, and pardon me for this, whatever else you might want to say about that event, Jesus is definitely attached. An abridged version of the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha, and certainly consistent with the teachings of Francis, might go like this:
- All existence involves suffering
- Suffering is caused by attachment
- The only authentic form of attachment is love
- To achieve authentic attachment, “Take up your cross and follow me.”
“The yoke is easy and the burden is light” only when it is the yoke of love. To follow Jesus is to be consumed by the pursuit of the lost because God’s love for all creation will not allow us to act otherwise. It is to run with your heart pounding and your feet stumbling yet with absolute clarity about the task just as Bonnie and I did in our search for our son Peter. Nothing was more important in that moment.
Within fifteen minutes we had found him. There he was by the tennis courts, one street over through several back yards, watching the kids play, with our dog Rocky sitting alertly next to him. Canine steadfastness was, in that circumstance, godlike. Rocky had stayed by Peter’s side the entire time.
In Jesus’ vision of God’s Reign, the only authentic attachment is love.