Burden Sharing

by James Blay

Galatians 6.2

I have always considered Lent as a journey, a journey of reflection, a journey of hope, a journey centered on discovering purpose. Lent’s commercialization has meant that a lot of that focus has shifted to giving up trivial things as some self-righteous proclamation.  How can we again reclaim Lent as a journey? How can we also find purpose in deeply searching ourselves and acknowledging our shortcomings and limitations? How can we again find community, even as we journey?

When I was in Liberia, before coming to school here in the states, I worked for a private K – 12 boarding school (don’t worry, the kindergarteners were not boarding), the Ricks Institute. The school’s motto is “not for self, but for others!” The motto is a nudge to the school’s devotion to developing students who are community-oriented and selfless in their interaction with society. Our Lenten focus allélón (one another) has drawn me back to thinking about that motto.

Over the last year, we have had opportunities to consider the relationships in our lives and put renewed focus on what it means to live together in community. Our attention is drawn to issues of oppression and inequity in our society. We have seen firsthand the disparity within our health and justice systems. We have continued to see how the spreading of lies and misinformation has undermined our nation’s sanity. We have seen how just over a year, families were struck with unimaginable grief because of the loss of a loved one, grief further exacerbated by the fact that their loved ones died without them by their bedside. Is there a better time than this Lenten season to reconsider how we live in the world with one another?

A familiar African Proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” As a society, we have been so caught up in going fast and outpacing everyone else that we have failed to see how morally corrupt we have become. The very value of being a Christ-follower has been forsaken for the halls of power and wealth. Personal agendas and the desires of self-righteousness lead so-called Christians to spread hate messages rather than grace; to demonize and criminalize the immigrant and foreigners rather than welcome them with love; to disparage the poor and needy rather than feed the hungry and clothe the naked. How can any of this moral corruption fulfill the message of Christ? How can we all get along if we are not all walking together? Perhaps the apostle Paul can help us on this Lenten journey to think less of ourselves and more of allélón (one another).

Paul’s final pastoral counsel to the Galatians provides them with basic directives on what it means to live in community walking by the spirit. Paul sees the church as an extended family in which members should take responsibility for one another. He wants them not to see themselves as spiritual rivals but as co-laborers, sisters and brothers in Christ. So in the first verse, he directs them, if anyone is found in transgression, you who are strong should seek to restore them in gentleness, in love, in grace.

While Paul does not outrightly make this claim, he implies that one day those who are “strong” in the spirit might just find themselves also in transgression and needing grace. It’s the old if you live in a glasshouse, don’t throw stones mantra. Understanding this connection in community and the need to work together to restore the lost (or sinner) is the very foundation of a thriving community. Paul wants the Galatians to know that individual piety, individual accomplishments, and personal gains fall short if the same energy is not given to help one another.

Paul goes one step further in verse two and says bear one another’s burden. The word translated as bear here in Greek is “bastazo” and can also mean sharing or carrying. Then, of course, we have the phrase one another or allélón, a reciprocal pronoun that emphasizes the mutual responsibility and benefit of caring for one another. This care for one another Paul declares is the fulfillment of the law of Christ.

There have been many scholarly studies on the meaning of this phrase, the law of Christ, because of the apparent oxymoron. Paul spent a good portion of his writings presenting Jesus in opposition to the law. He suggests that Jesus had come to liberate those who are enslaved by the law. But now, here is the same Paul offering burden-sharing as a fulfillment of the law of Christ. Confusing right? Not really. Paul presents Christ as the fulfillment of the law, particularly Christ’s redemptive work of selfless love.

So, where once the Galatians were held captive by a restrictive and legalistic set of laws, Paul points them to a love rooted in care for one another. A love that causes communities to thrive; a love that seeks the welfare of others; a love that demands justice for all; a love that says to your neighbor I am here for you; a love that says, we are pilgrims on a journey fellow travelers on the road. We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load. I will hold the Christ light for you in the nighttime of your fear. I will hold my hand out to you; speak the peace you long to hear. This burden-sharing love is Paul’s directive to the Galatians.

Paul paints a picture of the church as an extended family of mutual responsibility. Paul implies that life, as a Christ-follower, should not be one of individual toil and striving to attain righteousness. He suggests that the family of Christ has its foundation in interdependence, the kind of interdependence that is characterized not by loud warning and rebuke but is evidenced in the bearing of one another’s burdens. This burden-sharing life is a life filled and led by the spirit.

 By asking the Galatians to bear one another’s burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ, Paul is giving them a means by which they can conform their lives to selfless sacrifice and the pattern of Jesus. Without directly saying it, Paul is advising the Galatians to imitate Christ. Paul invites the Galatians into an extended family that is motivated by a symbiotic relationship of burden-sharing. In this family, everyone’s burden is a little lighter because no one carries them independently. In this family, you are not ridiculed or shamed for your shortcomings or limitations. In this family, you are helped and hoped from a place of mutual love. In this family, you can count on one another as you journey on.  Paul’s directive to the Galatians is alive for us as we journey through this Lenten season.

One of the most famous African concepts of community is conceived in the term Ubuntu. The Zulu term roughly translates into “I am, because you are.” Many African cultures believe that we must be concerned with the problems, struggles, or burdens of others because their issues affect us all. An example of this concept is found in Fannie Lou Hammer’s quote; No one is free until everyone is free.

As we journey through this season of Lent, let us be reminded that we do not travel alone, but we journey as a community and a family. Let us be reminded that we are called to bear one another’s burden. Burdens can take on many shapes and forms. Burdens can be physical, and they can be psychological. Burdens can render us helpless and hopeless when we try to bear them on our own. Burdens can isolate us and shut us out if we let them. It matters not how strong we think we are or how much wealth we possess; at some point in our lives, there comes a burden we cannot bear alone.

Our ability to tap into and lean on one another’s strength determines just how well our community will thrive. With all of the divisions happening in our society, there is no better time to imitate Christ. I remember a song we used to sing growing up; the words are “the more we are together, the happier we will be.” Now, this is not a kumbaya; why can’t we all get along kind of being together. This idea is not an I am going to ignore your hurtfulness or oppressive behavior being together. This kind of being together is not characterized by a lack of holding people accountable or excusing wrong in the name of unity. This kind of being together does not ignore the sufferings of others. This kind of being together calls us to love more, to serve more, to forgive more all for the betterment of one another.

One of my absolute favorite hymns is Blest Be the Tie. I especially love the third verse that says, “We share our mutual woes; Our mutual burdens bear; And often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.” This verse, for me, highlights allélón. It stresses the value of mutual burden-sharing within communities that are lead by the spirit to fulfill the law of Christ. What does Christ require of us? The temptation is to ask this question always but only from the perspective of self-elevation. However, the true Christ-follower asks this question from the standpoint of building the beloved community where mutual burden-sharing is the norm and not the exception.

I love my community here at College Park. I love that Lin reminded us last week of our connectedness to one another. I love the opportunity to journey with you all through the season of Lent. I love that you give of yourselves sacrificially for the sake of one another. I love that as a community; you welcome all. I love that you are committed to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting and praying for the sick. I love that you are an ally and an advocate. I love that you are training children in a way that helps them become good followers of Jesus. I love that you are a part of my allélón.But let us not be content with where we are. Let us, during this season, keep asking ourselves how we can be better burden bearers for one another. Let us keep asking ourselves how we can continue to hold fast to loving one another. Let us keep asking ourselves how we can be better and do better not only for ourselves but also for one another. For it is in our deep commitment to serving and loving one another that we find the peace that passes all understanding. It is in our desire to love one another through burden-sharing that we get a glimpse of the true meaning of heaven on earth.