Praying Towards Sunday

 We all have some experience with trying to stop a behavior only to return to what you don’t want to do, or trying to start doing something only to return again to where we start from, much like St. Paul in the epistle reading today. Maybe we have been trying to lose weight for years only to gain it all back. Maybe we have been trying to grow closer to God through worship, prayer and study, only to feel cold and distant from God.

How often have we felt like Paul did in his letter to the Romans? No matter how hard we try to live according to the great commandments, to love God and love our neighbor, it doesn’t always turn out that way.

Paul sounds like he is exhausted and in his desperation, he is unable to do any more to free himself from sin. However, Paul’s cry of desperation is quickly calmed with his acknowledgement that we will all be rescued by Jesus Christ our Lord.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus gives us these most reassuring words: “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.”

Justin Martyr, writing in the second century, said that when Jesus was working as a carpenter, one of the things he made was yokes. Perhaps we can imagine Jesus making these wooden yokes meaning to join pairs of animals together. Of course, the carpenter would want to make the yoke so that it would fit just right – not rub or be too rough on the animals, but something that would truly help the animals bear their burdens, pull together, and be more efficient as a team than either would be alone. We imagine Jesus the carpenter, sanding down rough spots, fitting the yoke, checking it, making it just right for the job – a perfect fit.

Jesus invites us to take a yoke just like this – made exactly for us by someone who understands what it means to bear burdens, someone who knows us each by name, knows our gifts and our needs, who does not want us to be wearied or weighed down. Jesus offers us a yoke, made by his own labor and love, made perfectly for us. And that’s not all; he offers himself as our partner in the yoke, the one who will help us bear, pull, carry – whatever we are called to do.

In many translations, Jesus calls his yoke “easy.” It makes it sound like very little effort or energy is required to carry it. As anyone who has truly tried to follow Jesus knows, that is not the case. The New English Bible’s translation reads, “My yoke is good to bear.”

The point is not that this yoke asks little of us – quite the contrary. The point is that it fits, it’s the right size, so it works – it leads to God, and it brings with it wholeness and a peace that can be found nowhere else.

“Come to me.” By this Jesus is saying, “If you seek God; if you seek his love; if you seek a life that makes some sense; if you want to be who you are created to be, then come to me.”

To come to Jesus is to be transformed. There is no single encounter Jesus has in the Scriptures where the other person did not leave changed or challenged. Jesus changes or challenges everyone who encounters him. His love can transform us and this world. To follow Jesus is still a yoke, but this yoke fits us, this yoke is perfectly made for us.

Paul’s epistle to the Romans and Gospel of Matthew challenge and assure us. They serve as a mirror for us to examine our understanding of who we are along with how we are living. Our desire is to love God and to love our neighbor. When we do not love God and our neighbor, we are in sin. So we pray the collect for this Sunday: O God, you have taught us to keep your commandments by loving you and our neighbor. Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Nina Strehl