He’s my brother. You know the song. Everytime I think about that song, it reminds me of a story I saw once about two brothers, one very healthy and one with a severe disability, and the stronger brother decided to do triathlons to get his brother outside more. Of course they always came in last because the disabled brother had to be carried by the abled brother. They always ended the races with smiles and cheers. Eventually the American magazine, Sports Illustrated, put the picture of the brothers on the cover of the magazine and named them youth sportsmen of the year.
We humans have always kind of suspected that we are all connected. We talk about the “brotherhood of man” and we tear up when we see those great videos on the internet showing the kindness of others to the less fortunate. We share them and we always insist “That’s the way it ought to be!” And we will even at times actually activate this sentiment with actions of our own.
So what keeps this admittedly true desire, this obvious hope, this very pleasing feeling, from becoming the norm rather than the exception in our world? If this is really so wonderful then why are folks still killing one another in wars? Why haven’t the billions of dollars, good intentions of millions, and hard and dedicated work of millions more produced a world where our brotherhood is cherished and lived out every day? I mean if it’s so obvious, why isn’t it actual?
I must confess to being a bit uncomfortable myself.
In today’s Epistle Lesson we get a hint as to both the “why” and the “how” to overcome this embarrassing situation. In Galatians 5:22-26; 6:1-2 St. Paul teaches his people about the fruit of the Spirit. You know the passage well, but let me give you a bit of background on the situation in Galatia. The church there was established by Paul during one of his missionary journeys. But now, as the saint was doing missionary work elsewhere, he hears some disturbing news about the church in Galatia. He hears that they are falling into the all-too-easy trap of reducing the dynamic and life-giving faith to mere rule keeping. And he writes this letter to tell them to stop it! He even goes so far as to ask “who has bewitched you?” They must have been put under some kind of magic spell to abandon the harder path of true and authentic purposeful faith.
St. Paul then teaches the Galatians that it is only life in the Spirit that produces the fruit of the Spirit. He goes on to end this passage by telling them “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) Life in the Spirit is all about loving the “other” more than yourself. Life in the Spirit is all about picking up your brother when he stumbles. Life is all about a dual focus in life – Toward God and toward the “other.” A Spirit led life is never focused merely on my own needs and desires, but an active participation in the continual transformation of my life to be “like Christ.” Then, and only then, will the “soil” of a heart be ready to consistently grow the fruit of the Spirit.
And that cultivation of my heart, paradoxically, means that I must continually do interior spiritual work if I am ever going to be freed from focusing on myself! The interior work of repentance, forgiveness, patience, love, gentleness, must all be cultivated in my life if I am ever going to be free from myself!
Today, the cotton candy of sentiment and “good intentions” will always dampen our appetite for this hard, internal, work. Today, apply yourself to the spiritual disciplines of the Faith and the wisdom of 20 centuries to watch as the unexpected happens. As you purposefully do this interior work, you are freed to bear another’s burden. Kind of amazing, don’t you think? After all, he ain’t heavy.