“So free we seem, so fettered fast we are,” wrote the poet Robert Browning. “So free we seem, so fettered fast we are.” A man slaves all his adult life, working weekends and accumulating all the overtime he can to become financially secure and independently wealthy. He retires and one bright morning shortly after he has a massive stroke on the golf course. He is paralyzed on one side. Angry and bitter at God, he withdraws into himself, shutting out his family and friends.
“So free we seem, so fettered fast we are.”
Last week we celebrated Independence Day. The many freedoms we enjoy as Americans. And that is good. Because of our freedoms we have been able to pursue the kind of life that most people in the other five-sixth of the world can only read about, dream of. Because of our freedom we can come here to worship without fear. But this Jesus invites us to seriously consider what we’re using our freedom for.
“Come to me. Come to me if you are weary and find life burdensome. I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.” Jesus invites us to a life of true freedom.
While he lived among us in his earthly life, Jesus was moved to compassion by the many forms of human slavery he saw around him. Surely he was against the oppression of his people by the Romans, but he was also grieved by the other forms of enslavement that are still with us today. Greed, lust, drunkenness, materialism. And the spiritual forms of enslavement: addiction to power, the need to control, envy, hardness of heart. All these forms of enslavement Jesus saw and he reached out to people to show them how fettered they were.
“Come to me if you find that your life has become wearisome, a burden. Come to me and I will refresh you. Give me what robs you of your peace of mind. Give me what worries you so much that you can’t sleep at night.
Give me what you are killing yourself for and I will give you a gift. I will give you my burden. “Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Join yourself, yoke yourself, to me and I will teach you about simplicity of life. About finding and doing the one thing that pleases your Father and mine. That is freedom.”
Viktor Frankl was a Jew who survived a Nazi death camp and lived to write about it in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl found that, even amid the horrible inhumanity of the Nazi prison camp, where all external freedoms were taken away, there were some prisoners who remained strangely resolutely free. He writes of this freedom:
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances – to choose one’s own way.”
Jesus invites each one of us to his life of freedom. It is not a life without responsibilities, but it is a life in which those responsibilities do not become burdens because they are carried on two sets of shoulders. Our and Jesus’. It is a life lived for the One who owns us and the only One to whom we are truly accountable. Any other life is slavery.