There’s just no pleasing some people. As an inveterate people-pleaser, this is hard for me to believe. But if Jesus was unable to do it, I don’t know why I think I should be able to. John the Baptist practiced religion via abstinence. Jesus practices via abundance.
And for lots of people, neither was good enough.
Notice, it’s not Jesus who’s saying the people aren’t good enough. That message of “not good enough” comes from the people themselves—from us. I have often felt that religion tells me I’m not good enough. But if this observation from Jesus is true, then it’s not Jesus who’s saying I’m not good enough. The direction is reversed. I’m the one who’s unable to be content. I’m the one saying nothing is good enough.
No wonder Jesus says just a few sentences later, “Y’all must be weary. You’re carrying heavy burdens.” We heap these burdens of “should” and “ought” and “good enough” on ourselves and each other.
Jesus wants to set us free from that. Lay it down. Take a rest.
There are any number of reasons that we become enslaved and entranced by the shoulds and oughts and good enoughs. Perfection, in our modern conception of it, holds out the allure of finally being beyond the need for growth. But even more, for me, perfection protects me from the need to act.
I have to confess that I have avoided meditation and centering prayer this way for years. I’m always searching for just the right method. This one is too strict. This one is too slack. This one is just too strange. And as I spend all my time searching for just the right guide, I manage to avoid ever sitting still at all.
This same dynamic can be paralyzing when it comes to acting in pursuit of justice. If I wait until the day I have it all figured out just right, then I never act at all. If I wait until I find the perfect leader without any flaws, then I can avoid ever making a difficult decision to join in the work. If I wait until the moment is perfect, then all the moments of possibility are certain to pass me by. And I sit, theoretically safe, on the sidelines, complicit in my silence.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” What would happen if I let that drive for perfection drop for a minute? What if I gave up trying to be so wise and intelligent and good, and became like an infant, dependent on a power greater than myself for care?
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me… for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” There’s still a yoke. There’s still work to do. The rest Jesus offers is not passivity. But it is different. I think of the difference a good backpack makes. You can carry so much more when the weight is well distributed.
Jesus invites us into a way of life that isn’t perfect, thank goodness. It’s better than that. It’s alive! Jesus’ way is alive with all the joy and pain and hope and work that comes with life abundant. It’s rest for our souls. It’s fuel for our work. It’s a relief and a balm, freedom and wholeness, a way forward and the courage to walk it.