There’s that classic story, which I am sure most of you have heard, about the guy who falls off a 100 foot cliff and is hanging on to a branch that he was able to grab as he was falling. Holding on desperately, he yells as loud as he can, “Help! Help! Can someone help me?!”
Out of nowhere, a voice answers: “I can help you, if you trust me.” The guy responds, “I trust you; I trust you!” The voice then says, “If you trust me, let go of the branch.”
The guy looks down, then up, then down again. Finally, he looks up and says, “Is there anyone else up there?”
Today’s Gospel reminds me a lot of that story. In so many words, Jesus seems to be telling us to let go.
We start with the opening line, where Jesus is chatting with the Father, and He says, “…for although You have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, You have revealed them to little ones.” Who’s He talking about? The wise and the learned are the Scribes and the Pharisees. Is it because they are not smart enough to get the message? No – they are wise and learned. Their problem is that they won’t let go of what they know, to enable them to learn something new and better. They are so consumed with their own knowledge and intellectual prowess, that even when they hear the truth, they miss it.
Jesus goes on to say, “Come to Me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.” We ask ourselves what this means, exactly. Is Jesus going to make the next car payment or pay the mortgage? Is He going to remove the cancer or heart disease? Is He going to end war, hunger, injustice? Is He going to take the idiots off the road? Not likely…
Jesus never promises to give us our solution or the answer we want. He promises to give us His solution, His answer. Said differently: “If you trust Me, let go of whatever your branch is.” This is usually not the answer we want to hear and too often we seek someone else.
Today’s Gospel ends with this insight: “For My yoke is easy and My burden light.” What could be easier than letting go? Sounds pretty simple… OK… play along with me. Imagine you are outside holding onto heavy rock. Now, in your mind, let it go. Easy, right? OK, still outside on a really windy day. Now, you are holding on to the winning lottery ticket, worth millions. In your mind, let it go. I mean now… right now… let it go. Come on; most of you still have it. Much harder, huh?!
Well… I don’t know if this is going to make you feel any better or not, but it’s an old problem. The early Christians all realized that one of the important aspects of Christian living was letting go; that is, detaching themselves from those things in their lives that prevented, or tempted them away from, their commitment with God.
Let’s take a quick stroll through Church history and see how they dealt with problem of possessions…
One of the ways that the early Christian communities dealt with the challenge of possessions, was to place what they had at the service of the Community. Everything was held in common and distributed according to the needs of the Community and its members. They were happy to give and grateful to receive. As Christianity began to grow and faith communities expanded, they were no longer able to sustain this way of living. But the need to detach was just as important, maybe even more so.
This laid the foundation for the development of hermitages and monasteries. People literally insulated themselves against a world that valued personal possessions. It was a life devoted to prayer, study and manual labor. But not everyone was called to this way of life. So the question arose: How could lay people – married and unmarried – deal with the reality that possessions are an obstacle to a relationship with God? Jesus’ teaching still resonated with them: We cannot serve two masters. It’s God or possessions – pick one.
Fast forward to the 21st century in Lancaster, NY, USA: What are we to do? How do we live in this world of unprecedented plenty and still be able to have a relationship with our Creator?
Let’s be honest: if I had all the answers, I wouldn’t be 100 pounds overweight. But I do believe that no matter what our situation, God is constantly calling us to choose Him and He gives us experiences which – if we open ourselves to them – gives us some insights on how to live a holier life.
In my case, it’s my grandchildren. I make very different choices when I am with them. As soon as they show up, they are my priority… and it’s not a sacrifice. I am at my healthiest when I am with them. I eat less or not at all; I exercise more than I ever would if they weren’t there. I look at my fit bid when they leave to see how many step I had that day and it gives me a message: “Sorry, lost track about an hour ago!”
It’s at that those times that it dawns on me that love changes the value… of everything. What wouldn’t you give up for someone you love? Time maybe money in some circles, but it’s priceless when you get to spend it with a couple of toddlers, especially when you realize that they won’t always be toddlers.
Last week, Jesus told us that we needed to love Him more than our mother, father, children… and by extension, grandchildren. This week, He explains why. God is love and when Love dominates our lives, everything else pales by comparison.
Love God; love each other — and all the other pieces of your life will fall in place. It’s not a sin to have things; it’s a sin to hold on to them for dear life. And it is this lesson that is lost on the wise and the learned, yet is mastered by the little ones. So, while those who place their treasure is in possessions continue to ask, “Is anyone else up there?”, those dedicated to love recognize letting go as a little slice of Heaven.