Theme for Sunday, 5 July 2020

Scripture for this week: Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

My wife, who used to be a radio DJ in California, will tell you that it’s deadly to focus too much on something that’s not to be said on the radio. It lodges in the brain and bursts forth despite all attempts at suppression!

It’s an analogy for other areas of life where we do exactly what we don’t want to do, whether it be to say a thought aloud that should have been silenced, to lack self-control, addictive behaviour, anger management, and so on.

The Apostle Paul admitted his own failings in this regard – interestingly, in a moment of vulnerability to people whom he had not even met, that becomes powerful because it is so personal. It can all get a bit tiring, but Paul reminds his readers that in Jesus there is some hope, both for reconciliation when we fail, and for encouragement in new opportunity.

However, not everyone found Jesus’ message hopeful, or restful. There were – and still are – those who would rather pick around the details that upset their personal apple cart of ideals and overlook the essential part. Jesus may have consorted with ‘undesirables,’ but possibly that was because those were people who would listen to his message – and might even turn themselves around and follow it.

There is rest to be found in this, because relentless following of rules, and judging others, can be tiring – especially when we all, as Paul noted, fall short of our ideals. Jesus offers an easier yoke – but not completely without a burden.

The yoke is the duty of care that accompanies our obligation to be a part of the process of lightening the burdens and sharing the yoke of discipleship. We have an obligation to engage with the society and culture in which we exist, which has been influenced by Christian teaching more than many would like to admit, to find the best way to effect that care. This is at the core of Christian life.

Amongst those who have taken this seriously was William Temple, who in 1941, when he was Archbishop of York, wrote Citizen and Churchman, in which he contrasted the “welfare-state” (a term which he coined) with the fascist “power-state” – and defined its role in supporting the vulnerable.

Many were moved by his message, and so it was that seventy-two years ago today [5 July], one of the results of this concept of the welfare state was the beginning of Britain’s National Health Service. The true Jewel in the Crown: an organisation dedicated to fulfilling the duty of care.

The 18th century naval hospital on the Isla del Rey, top, and the old hospital, Verge del Toro, both in Menorca, are reminders that while medical treatment has existed and progressed for centuries, publicly funded health care as a benefit for all is a relatively recent innovation that addresses the duty of care for all.

Of course there is more to the welfare state than the health service. The duty of care that is part of Jesus’ yoke extends beyond medicine. The Judaeo-Christian tradition has a catch-all term: widows, orphans and strangers – basically, needy people. It is too easy to be dismissive about those in need (and the tabloid newspapers delight in doing so) but this serves only to harden hearts and distract us from Christian duty.

An American priest wrote several months ago about his experience of dropping his daughter at her pre-school. He said, “We always look around to see whether someone needs a friend—and in preschool, there’s always somebody who’s having a hard morning.” Sometimes his daughter would notice a friend in need of her own accord, and that, he said, was his proudest moment, beyond any academic accomplishment.

God looks at us, dropping into our lives as God’s spiritual pre-school children, and I’m sure that God’s proudest moments are when we notice need and do something about it of our own accord.

Although it might be an individual response, more often, since we live as communal beings, then as with a national health service, or a welfare state, it will require us to find ways to work together, to share the yoke of the duty of care. Bearing this yoke will, in fact lead us to rest, as Jesus said, because life will ultimately always be more restful when we follow God’s will.

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