Having No Burden to Carry
Shortly after the first Christian missionaries came, in 1834, to the region in northern India known as the Punjab, two monks were traveling in the late afternoon hurrying to reach a mountain-side monastery. One of them, Sundar,(1) had recently converted to Christianity while his companion, Aadi,(2) had continued as a Buddhist. It was bitter cold in the Himalayas and night was coming on. Aadi warned his companion that they were in danger of freezing to death if they did not reach the monastery by nightfall.
As they were traversing a narrow path, they heard a cry for help from below the ledge. A man had fallen, and he was lying there injured. His leg was broken, and he was unable to walk or even crawl.
“it is my tradition now that God has brought me
here to help this man. I cannot abandon him.”
Aadi grabbed Sundar’s arm and said, “Do not stop. God has brought this man to his fate. He must work it out himself; that is our tradition. We must hurry on or we will perish.” But Sundar replied, “No, it is my tradition now that God has brought me here to help this man. I cannot abandon him.” In disgust, Aadi set off through the snow, which was now falling heavily.
Sundar climbed down to where the injured man was. Since his leg was broken, Sundar made a sling using his blanket that he took from his backpack. He hoisted the man onto his shoulder and began the painful and arduous climb back up to the path. After a long time, drenched with perspiration, he made it back to the path and, struggling, he pressed on with the full weight of the injured man on his shoulder.
Soon it was dark, and he had all he could do to follow the path in the moonlight; but he pressed on. Overheated from the effort and near exhaustion he finally saw the lights of the monastery in the distance. Then, he suddenly stumbled and fell; there was a frozen object in the path. He brushes the snow away to find the body of Aadi. He had frozen to death within sight of the monastery.
“For those who wish to save their life will lose it, but
those who lose their life for my sake will find it”
Kneeling there in the snow he could faintly hear the words of Jesus, “For those who wish to save their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my sake will find it” [Luke 9:24]. Hoisting the injured man on his shoulder again, he completed the final leg of their journey to safety.
Life’s most difficult task is to have no burden to carry.
Years later in Chandigarh, the capital of The Punjab, Sundar was asked by his students this question, “Master, what is life’s most difficult task?” Sundar replied, “To have no burden to carry.”
What could he possibly have meant by that? … Life’s most difficult task is to have no burden to carry. That’s a really puzzling response – its meaning is not at all clear. Life seems to be full of ambiguities, but how are we to interpret this story. What meaning does it have for us. As Christians, we turn to the Word of God, especially the Gospels, for wisdom in dealing with the ambiguities of life. And, there’s a passage that is particularly relevant to interpreting this story:
Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” So, they went off and preached repentance. They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
At first, that passage doesn’t seem to shed much light on the meaning of Sundar’s reply to his students. So, we look further to the Church’s teachings on understanding Scripture for, possibly, a “clue” to how to hear the Word of God more clearly.
There’s an important document from Vatican II titled Die Verbum, or Word of God. Article 12 of Dei Verbum says that:
In sacred scripture, God speaks through human beings in human fashion. It follows that the interpreters of sacred scripture, if they are to ascertain what God wished to communicate to us, should carefully search out the meaning which the sacred writers really had in mind, that meaning which God had thought well to manifest through the medium of their words. In determining the intention of the sacred writers, attention must be paid to the culture, traditions, and expectations of their first listeners; and the characteristic patterns of perception and storytelling of their times.
Ah, there’s our “clue;” we need to hear the passage in the context of its original listeners to discern the message. For, all of Scriptures are Middle Eastern stories, by Middle Eastern authors for Middle Eastern listeners. Middle Easterners tell stories differently than we do. In Middle Eastern storytelling, the message is not in the plot, it’s in the details used to tell the story.
The Apostles were sent needing the villagers
as much as the villagers needed them.
So, looking more closely at the details in that passage from Mark’s gospel, we see that the details are not about the Apostles’ success, or even about how they were to preach or how they were to drive out demons. It was all about Jesus’ instructions: They were not being sent as self-sufficient messengers. They were going fully dependent on the villagers they would meet. It was the villagers who would provide their subsistence: food, supplies, lodging, and most of all a willingness to expose the demons they struggled with.
This Gospel passage is not about success at all; that’s just the plot, the part we’re accustomed to following. We like to hear about success. But that views the passage ‘upside down.’ The passage is really about mutual dependence: The Apostles were sent needing the villagers as much as the villagers needed them.
All of us must live our faith in community, dependent
on others and others dependent on us.
With this new insight, we now see that the story of the two monks is not really about the heroic deeds of Sundar at all; it’s about mutual dependence. It was the physical effort of carrying the burden of the injured man that caused Sundar to generate enough body heat to combat the bitter cold. Sundar needed the injured man as much as the injured man needed him. Aedi had no burden to carry, by his own choice; and he froze to death as a result.
The lesson in the story is really no different than that in the First Sending of the Apostles described by Mark. All of us are dependent on others and others are dependent on us. Community helps us connect with God and sustain that connection in ways we cannot do solely on our own. You may be dissatisfied with church communities in general. Or, you may not feel sufficient support from the religious community you are part of now – then go to another parish or community. Don’t leave the church entirely. We need one another, for life’s most difficult task is to have no burden to carry.
‘Till next time.
Dcn Bob Evans
September 29, 2019
Story adapted from “Sundar” in A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers, by Fr. William J. Bausch, 1998.
1 The Hindi name, Sundar, means “kind, good, attractive”
2 The Hindi name, Aadi, means “first or most important”
Mark 6:7-13, Luke 9:24
My book, Walking the Parables of Jesus, is now in print and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Go to: http://enroutebooksandmedia.com/walkingtheparables/