Both / And

August 10, 2012

Galatians 6: 2,5

"Carry each other's burden and so fulfill the law of Christ . . . each one must carry their own load."

Reflection by Anthony B. Robinson

Okay, Paul, which one is it?

In verse 2 Paul says, "Carry each other's burdens." I get that. Help someone with their heavy load, literally or figuratively. Give them a ride to the hospital. Take dinner by to someone in crisis. Listen to another's concerns and so help them carry the load. Take the kids for an evening and let Mom and Dad have a break. Pack a bag of food for someone who needs it.

But three verses later, in verse 5, Paul says, "Each one must carry his own load." Pick up your own bags. Deal with your own stuff. Do your own work. Learn to be responsible for yourself. Carry your own load. When someone doesn't do their part of the job, someone else may end up doing it for them. On a long-term basis, that's not a good solution for either party.

So which is it? "Carry each other's burdens" or "Each one must carry his own load"? Could it be both?

I once heard a story of a man who was doing a retreat at a monastery. At dinner he enjoyed some wonderful dark, rich homemade bread. He asked one of the monastery's brothers (who had made the bread), "Did we make this bread ourselves or was it given to us?" The brother thought for a moment and said, "Yes."

At least sometimes things aren't either/ or, they are both/ and. We might wish everything could be either this or that. Then life would be simple. Black or white; no grey. It's justice or mercy, but not both. It's faith or works, but not both. But since life is not simple, neither is our faith. Life is complex and so, thanks be to God, is our faith.

"Carry each other's burdens" and "Each one must carry his own load." Both are true. God gives us the task of discerning when it's the time and place for one or for the other - or both in right measure.

Prayer

Praise and thanks to you O God for a faith that is simple but not simplistic, for a faith that is as complex and wondrous as life is and as you are. Amen.

About the Author
Anthony B. Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher and writer. His newest book is Called to Lead: Paul's Letters to Timothy for a New Day, and he is also the author of the just-published Book of Exodus: A God is still speaking Bible Study. Read his weekly reflections on the current lectionary texts at www.anthonybrobinson.com by clicking on Weekly Reading.

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