Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Too Long is long enough

Proverb 8:1-14
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

"The Gospel that took my life is the very same Gospel that gave me life!" - me

Forgiveness is the cornerstone of our faith and the very essence of Christ Himself. Yet even among Christians forgiveness is a sensitive subject for those who cannot or will not offer forgiveness. Those who cannot - or at least find it very difficult - have been genuinely harmed, especially emotionally; those wounds and the corresponding pain go deep. The emotional harm goes far beyond being merely "offended". To forgive someone for inflicting such pain, then, is to reach deep from within, put aside the harsh feelings, ignore the pain, and reach beyond self. To do so is not to ignore or even forget what has happened because, after all, we are still human. Rather the challenge is to cast aside and overcome an obstacle in spite of itself that is doing no harm to anyone except the one holding the grudge.

Those who will not forgive are stuck in a nether world of darkness and bitterness, insisting they have every right to hold the grudge; that they have been unjustly harmed, and someone must pay. Whether they have truly been harmed is subjective, of course, but the pain and bitterness are no less real. It is unfortunate, however, that this pain is often self-inflicted. In both cases, however, there is that burden - real and imagined - that binds us into a such a state of being that we fail to notice that our lives are no longer our own. We have surrendered control of our emotional states to the "offending" party and will be manipulated against our will as long as we are under the "yoke" of this undue burden.

It is no less true for we who cannot move beyond our own sins. Once we are spiritually convicted of such sin it is very difficult - sometimes impossible - for some to let go because of our own consciences. We realize on some level that if some other person had committed such sins against us, we would be hard-pressed to forgive them. So because we know deep down that we are not so forgiving ourselves, we cannot imagine the possibility that someone else could or would be so forgiving. We fail to fully grasp and embrace the full meaning of what Jesus' earthly life was all about.

Whether we are talking about the sins we have committed - or - whether we are talking about sins committed against us, the burden soon becomes impossible to carry. We become isolated, bitter, hard-hearted, and vindictive so much so that the pain and guilt actually intensify and soon overwhelm us. We will not only refuse to forgive others, we will also refuse to be forgiven ourselves because we are spiritually trapped! It's like building a wall from the inside and failing to insert a door.

But this is the whole point of DIVINE forgiveness and the needless burdens the world will impose upon us. The pain is very real, to "err" - as the saying goes - is entirely human, but genuine and lasting forgiveness must necessarily come from the Lord Himself and certainly beyond oneself. Restitution and atonement for wrong-doing on some level must be made either in a personal plea for forgiveness from the one we have hurt - or - in earnest prayer to the Spirit whom we have needlessly grieved; often both because the burden will not simply "go away". It must be answered. Justice itself demands it.

In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus is offering an alternative. Make no mistake; it is no less a yoke He is offering, but it is a yoke that leads in a whole different direction. It is a yoke that binds us, and yet is not quite so binding. It is the genuine yoke of freedom that comes only when we freely choose to walk with Him and "learn" from Him. It is the only yoke from which true "rest for the soul" can be found because I suspect what Jesus is referring to is His willingness to share that yoke and help us to endure. But we must be willing to take a risk, to ask Him in - AND - allow Him in. To do so, and why it is so difficult for many, is to significantly surrender "lordship" of one's own life. And we're just not so willing to go that far. We think it would just be easier to protect our pride, suck it up, and endure the pain.

So we continue to refuse the yoke of the Good Shepherd and choose instead the burdensome yoke the world imposes upon all beasts of burden - and to the world this is all you and I are. The appropriate commercial term is "utility" and has to do with one's "usefulness" to society. The worldly yoke that binds us against our will leads us not where we choose to go but where we are expected and often forced to go. The really sad part of this is that we can actually convince ourselves that our lives still really belong to us! But it's all an illusion.

We are needlessly bound by worldly wisdom that guides us outside the realm of the Lord, convinces us we can make up stuff as we go and - in fact - convinces us that we are doing well in going with the secular and contemporary flow. This yoke convinces us that it is ok - even desirable - to be like everyone else, but it is NOT ok. It is NOT ok because we fail to realize that once we are used up and no longer of any use to the secular world, we are then transported to the slaughter house with the rest of the dumb beasts where certain death awaits. There is no redemption and no life beyond the slaughter house because it is from there where we are finally and completely "consumed".

Shouldn't we know when we've had enough? How much longer do we think we can carry such a burden before collapsing from spiritual fatigue? Jesus came to "give rest" (Mt 11:28) and to "give life abundantly" (Jn 10:10). Why would we choose anything less? Why would we insist upon wallowing in our own misery or in the misery of others? Why, in the name of "freedom, would we allow others to dictate how we feel and how we live?

People don't want Jesus because grace isn't cheap, and mercy isn't easy! It is not by any means "easy" to be a Christian, and yet choosing to follow Christ and surrender everything to Christ means being freed from the shackles of human standards and expectations, both of which shift and sway according to whichever way the political wind is blowing. People actually think this is easier to just "go with the flow" without realizing that flow is certain to shift suddenly and unexpectedly! Choosing to submit oneself to the Lordship of Christ also means that our decisions are no longer our own. We must run everything past Him first. We must make choices each and every day not according to our wills and wishes but according to His. It is not a suggestion; it is a requirement. There is no way around it, and there are no short-cuts. So we often simply choose the burdensome "yoke".

Above all else, living as a disciple of Christ and as one who stands "justified" (forgiven) before the Holy Father by the righteousness of Christ means being not only willing but EAGER to forgive and be forgiven because such acts of mercy are not burdens that stunt personal growth but are rather opportunities for spiritual growth. The "burden", like a tumor, has been removed by the Great Physician! I think maybe if we could see the act of forgiveness not as something we expect to receive but as something we are more willing to impart, we would better understand the very Heart of the Lord Himself. It is an act of divine intervention by very human hands and hearts that forgives an offense without condition, thus releasing ourselves from such yokes of bondage. It is the single, most difficult thing you or I will ever do. And it is the only thing which will ultimately free us.

It is only in this act of forgiveness by Him and through Him when we are finally released from bondage. It is only then when we are freed from the burdensome "yoke" of the world, and it only then when we will EVER find "rest for our weary souls". You and I have carried these needless burdens for far too long. And too long, dear friends, is quite long enough. Haven't we had enough?

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