They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
Matthew 23:4 (NIV)
Some mornings as I read the chapter, I’ll have a thought that pops into my head and I can’t let it go. Something resonates and I’m not sure exactly why. When this happens, I’ll often sit with it to see where it leads me.
This morning, as I read Jesus describing the way the religious fundamentalists leading the Temple “tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on people’s shoulders” the Band’s classic song The Weight popped into my head.
I decided to chase the rabbit and read up on the song’s origin. Robbie Robertson described it as a fairly simple parable (my word, not his). Fanny sends the person to Nazareth (not the Biblical Nazareth, but Nazareth, PA the home of the Martin guitar factory) just to say “hi” to everyone there. When the person arrives, they have a string of interactions (the verses of the song) in which people ask something of them. What started as a simple “say hi for me” turns into the burden of a host of expectations from others.
Today’s chapter is one of the most intense in the Great Story. The escalating conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders comes to a full boil and Jesus goes off on the most heated message of condemnation that is recorded. It’s always been a good thing for me to remember as a follower of Jesus: Jesus approached sinners with compassion, it was the religious fundamentalists in His own tribe that He most vociferously condemned.
Jesus’ rant begins by describing the way the religious leaders “tie up heavy, cumbersome loads” on the people. That’s where Jesus’ condemnation begins.
Along my spiritual journey, I have spent short stretches of the journey in fundamentalist groups of Jesus followers. It was simply a modern version of what Jesus experienced with the religious leaders of His day. Rules that have rules to explain the rule, along with exceptions to the rule, which have subsequent mandatory rules attached to it so that the exception does not end up breaking the original rule.
I remember realizing as I walked with one of these groups for a time, that my peers were religiously and doctrinally dutiful, but they were spiritually immature. Their faith was reduced to following rules, keeping up appearances, and pledging unwavering allegiance to every jot and tittle of their group’s doctrinal statement. I also observed how burdensome this became for the members of this group.
Just a few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend who escaped such a group. “When I applied myself to follow every rule and be the most upright person in the group, the heavier my heart became.”
I remember one dear friend who joined a similar group of Christians. He came to tell me one day that he was cutting off our relationship and that I would never hear from him again. His group was the only ones who were right and the only ones who would make it on Judgment Day. He then informed me that I stood condemned to hell and he was required to tell me of my error, my condemnation, and never speak to me again if I didn’t join his group. To this day, I wonder how many individuals he had to have that conversation with to appease his religious leaders. Poor guy. What a burden that must have been for him.
In the quiet this morning, I guess my rabbit trail has led me to remember that Jesus’ specifically said that He came to give me rest, not more burden. “My way is easy,” He said, “and my burden is light.” He said that there were only two rules for His followers and that if I apply my heart and soul to follow those two rules then everything else would fall into place.
Jesus’ rant against His religious enemies is only sealing His fate, and He knows it. They won’t stand for dissension. They must cling to their power and authority at all costs. That’s the way the system works. They now bear the burden of conspiring to commit murder to preserve that system.
Jesus will bear the burden of my sin when they execute Him…
…that through the power of His resurrection I might “take the load off.”
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.