From The Journey to Peace
As they led him away, they laid hold of one Simon the Cyrenean who was coming in from the fields. They put a crossbeam on Simon’s shoulder for him to carry along with Jesus. (Luke 23:26)
Jesus Shows Us How to Be Instruments of God’s Love
When faced with adversity, some people question God’s fairness. When faced with a serious problem, others blame their forebears or their peers. When confronted with social problems associated with great poverty, some people withdraw into the comfort and security of their own homes, overwhelmed by their perceived powerlessness. When asked to contribute to a charity or to volunteer their time and talents, still others, enslaved by selfishness, complain that they do not have enough for themselves.
The word of God sheds light on the human condition in the face of difficulties and helps shape our weekly Christian celebration.
The setting for Ezekiel 18:25-28 was the Babylonian exile. While the people of God were languishing in exile, many of them blamed God or their ancestors for their predicament: “Fathers have eaten green sour grapes,” they complained, “and the children’s teeth are on edge.” The prophet Ezekiel responds very directly. He points out that each generation receives reward or punishment – life or death – in accord with its own attitudes and actions. God offers each generation all it needs – both to survive adversity and to build a better world, one that reflects the kingdom of God. The important thing is to recognize our God-given individual and collective resources – meager though they may seem – and to use them as wisely and effectively as we can to uproot poverty, eradicate violence, and establish justice, peace, and harmony.
Saint Paul takes a similar tack in his letter to the Philippians (2:1-11). He calls the community of faith to harmony and unity, offering Christians the selfless example of Jesus. Jesus freely emptied himself from his exalted position and took on the weak human condition. In doing so, he shows us firsthand what we can accomplish when we live in accord with God’s will and allow ourselves to be his instruments of love, compassion, and mercy. Paul points out that in order to do this we must take on the attitude of Christ, who is ever obedient to his father and who cam among us filled with enduring, selfless love.
None of this is new to us. In our hearts we know the truth of what Ezekiel and Paul are telling us. But we also know that there is a tension between knowing something and acting on it, there is a difference between saying something and actually doing something about it.
Matthew’s Gospel takes this problem on directly in the parable of the two sons (21:28-332) – the one who agrees to go to work in the vineyard, as his father suggests, but does not go – and the other one who refuses to go into the vineyard at his father’s request but then decides to go. In the context of this passage and in the broader context of Jesus’s ministry, the first son resembles the religious leaders of Jesus’s day who tripped over their tongues in being the first to say, yes, to God, but then refused to enter into the vineyard, the kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus. Tragically, they resisted the new thing God was doing and tenaciously clung to their old traditions. The second son is like the tax collectors and public sinners who at first said, no, to God. But their encounter with Jesus and their acceptance of his gospel change their lives. They ultimately entered the vineyard, the kingdom of God.
It is not for us to judge the people of Jesus’s time. The same challenge faces us in every generation. Will we say, yes, to God and work I his vineyard? Or will we refuse or withdraw or try to hide?
God, source of all goodness, there are times when I
frankly do not want to work in your vineyard. There
are times when, like Simon of Cyrene, I just want
to rest awhile rather than help a neighbor with a
burden that is not exactly mine. Help me to say, yes,
to your call so that I can help those I encounter on
Following the Lord Demands Strength and Perseverance
The life of discipleship is not an easy one – if we take Jesus for our model. (Mark 1:29-39) After a long day of ministering to hurt and sick people, Jesus has to heal or help one more person before he can eat dinner! Afterward, there are so many more in need of his healing, comforting touch. When he rises at dawn and retreats to an out-of-the-way place to pray, his disciples seek him out to inform him that everyone is looking for him – again! Discipleship – following the Lord, continuing his ministry – demands strength of character and God-given perseverance.
O God, my shepherd, guide me in your paths. give
me the strength I need to persevere on the journey.
But please also lead me beside restful waters at
times so that my soul can be refreshed in your
Jesus Helps Us Bear Our Crosses
Jesus invites us to come to him, to learn from him as his disciples. Let us listen again to his beautiful, consoling words: “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Jesus promises that his yoke will be kind and gentle to our shoulders, enabling us to carry our load more easily. That is what he means when he says his burden is “light.” Actually, it might be quite heavy, but we will be able to carry it. Why? Because Jesus himself will help us. It is as though he tells us, “Walk alongside me; learn to carry the burden by observing how I do it. If you let me help you, the heavy labor will seem lighter.”
God, my rock, my deliverer, thank you for the
example of Simon of Cyrene and the gift of your
son, Jesus, who helps me carry my burdens. Teach
me to walk alongside Jesus and take his yoke upon
my shoulders so that, with his help, I can carry my
burdens and help others carry theirs.