Reflection by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 5 July 2020.
• First Reading: Genesis 24: 34-38, 42-49, 58-67 (Abraham’s servant’s story – a wife for Isaac – Rebecca – Isaac comforted after his mother’s death)
• Psalm 45: 11-18 (In the place of fathers, O king, you shall have sons)
• Epistle: Romans 7: 15-25a (Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord)
• Gospel: Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30 (My yoke is easy and my burden is light)
One of the things that put me off the church when I was young was the sense that it comprised a very long list of things that I must or must not do.
The image in those days was of control and condemnation. Forgiveness was mentioned but it seemed only on the basis is excruciating self-humiliation.
Confession was there – but it seemed that it was to meet the needs of the church rather than of the penitent.
I also recall seeing an elderly priest – who was probably not too much older than I am now, but he seemed to be positively ancient – and saying or thinking that the one thing I would never be was a priest.
I rather think that the Lord smiled at that one – never of course a burst of ribald laughter, but maybe a slight chuckle.
But then our lessons lead us in a different direction. First there is Abraham’s concern that his son Isaac should have a decent wife. And so he exerted himself to ensure that this happened. Isaac was not exactly a man of action, and was at a loss as he mourned his mother.
And yet we are told how God was deeply engaged in Abraham’s arrangements to bring Isaac personal comfort and of course to secure the line of descent through which the great promise to Abraham would be fulfilled.
Through all the changes and mishaps that Abraham’s servant underwent, Isaac was indeed brought the companionship and comfort that he needed.
A time of personal abandonment had been turned around in the providence of God.
But then Paul writes of another kind of anguish. Intellectually and morally he was committed to the law of his people. But while he knew that it brought life to the heart, he also recognized his personal struggles with parts of it – and maybe all of it.
Impulses and appetites, memories and anxieties haunted him. Whatever he thought or felt, he knew that somehow he was always inadequate.
No matter how much learning, dedication, no matter how much time he spent in prayer and fasting, the giving of alms and the doing of good works. It was never going to be enough.
In his own frame and in the depths of his soul, he knew that in his own strength of will and mind, he could never do enough or be enough to deserve the blessings of the fellowship of God.
Paul was living in a permanent wilderness of condemnation. Dry, inadequate, maybe self-pitying, bereft of the kind of fellowship for which the depths of his soul craved but could never earn or contrive.
It was part of being human, and a lonely part at that. There must surely be another way. If he could not contrive it himself, then who could?
But thanks be to God for our Lord Jesus Christ!
Then we have Jesus’ personal invitation. It is given very simply and briefly. He makes no demands, and all He needs is that each person should be able to hear and respond.
It is an invitation to approach Him, just as we are. No special rites of preparation, no incantations or fasting or self-abasement.
All He asks is that we come to Him – and if we are burdened then bring that burden before Him as well.
He does not set limits on the burdens – only we know what those burdens are. They can be in any part of our lives and histories. They can be of the most personal and intimate nature. They can be beyond the possibility of any kind of human remedy or healing.
They can be of the most broken and the most corrupted aspects of life imaginable. There is no past sorrow or present situation or anxiety for the future that He cannot see and hear, touch and heal. His forgiveness and renewal have no limits.
In one sense the only limits are those we put on ourselves. They may be intellectual, moral, relational, social or practical. The only person who can keep us away is ourselves.
But Jesus makes an offer: lay your burdens down and instead be yoked with me. It is a joining and a sharing.
Yes, there will be a burden but it will be different. It will be a burden shared, and above all it will be one that is given by God. It will be about His priorities. His methods, His plans for our lives, His ways of meeting people and responding to them.
To be yoked with Jesus Christ is to take on a new agenda with new resources to meet it. Its timescale is eternity and its company is not only Jesus Christ but all others who also walk under the same yoke.
It is a yoke walked with new energy and seeing the landscape with new eyes, hearing new kinds of stories and speaking in new kinds of conversations.