This July 4 we celebrate the 244th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. We mark the day when the thirteen colonies announced to the world that they would no longer be bound to Great Britain.
As the Founding Fathers wrote in that extraordinary document, “The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”
On July 4, 1776, the British colonies threw off the yoke of tyranny. They would no longer be commanded and controlled like a yoked animal.
James Madison, our fourth president, spoke of what the people of America had done when he wrote, “The governments of Europe are afraid to trust the people with arms. If they did, the people would certainly shake off the yoke of tyranny, as America did.”
We continue to celebrate our independence down to this very day because liberty and freedom are cherished by all Americans. We abhor the notion of being “yoked” to any person or to any power that seeks to put us under its control.
The Gospel for this coming Sunday, July 5, (Matthew 11:25-30) seems to proclaim a message that sounds very different from the one celebrated on July 4.
In that Gospel, Jesus speaks not about throwing off a yoke, but doing just the opposite. He says, “Take my yoke upon you.”
Then Jesus goes on to tell us that if we do, “you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
We put on the yoke that Jesus speaks of when we follow his example and live according to his Gospel. As he tells us, “learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.”
We are to learn from the one who reveals what God is like and who shows us what it means to be fully human, what it means to be a perfect child of the Father.
When we seek to live according to the Gospel and according to the example of Jesus, we do not lose our freedom. We truly find it. As we discover in reading the scriptures and studying history, when humankind goes its own way, ignoring God’s teaching and direction, humanity ends up in disaster.
In following the Lord, in letting him lead us, in putting on his yoke, we discover true freedom.
The colonists found freedom in throwing off the yoke of tyranny. We find it by accepting the yoke that Jesus offers us.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski