I have a story to tell you this weekend. It is a total fantasy of a story. Like all good stories, it begins “Once upon a time…”
Once upon a time, there was a very good and wise king who was also very young. The people loved him. He had divided his kingdom into four sections, each one led to by a Duke. The land was prosperous and everyone lived in peace.
Well, this young king fell in love with a princess from a neighboring kingdom. There was tremendous wedding, and the whole kingdom rejoiced to see the king with his bride – well, almost the whole kingdom. You see, the day after the wedding, the king was going hunting with his four dukes. What he did not know was that the dukes had planned to kill him. And they did.
The word got back to the Queen, and she left the kingdom to return to her father and his kingdom. War broke out in the land with each of the dukes trying to win the kingdom. But none of them was strong enough.
After many years of warfare, there was a prophet who came upon a particularly bad battle. As he looked down from the ridge, he saw many soldiers dead and dying. And he looked up at the opposite ridge, and saw the last of the battle wagons disappearing over the ridge.
At that moment, he had a vision. And he went around the kingdom proclaiming this to anyone who would listen. “There will come a man who is strong enough to pull a cart that would normally be pulled by two horses. That man, and only that man, will be our new King!”
Well, all four of the dukes tried to pull a cart of that size. Not one of them could move it even an inch. So they outlawed carts that big, saying that the bridges of the kingdom would no longer support that size of a cart. And they continued to fight among themselves. It was a terrible time in this once peaceful kingdom.
But then, of course, they decided that since an oxcart was about the same size as a two horse cart, they had to outlawed them as well. But in order to secure the possibility that one of them would win the kingdom, and because this prophet’s vision was spreading around the entire kingdom, they decided to kill him as well, thinking that all this would stop his vision from coming true. What a foolish mistake.
Well, as I said, the wars continued. People were in despair, but they never forgot the prophet’s vision.
One day a farmer sold his property from a neighboring kingdom with the promise of a new farm on the other side of this war-torn land. He bought an oxcart, loaded his family and all their belongings, and headed across this war-torn kingdom.
They had traveled about three days, which was only halfway across the kingdom, when they were confronted by soldiers. The soldiers said “you cannot travel across this land, the bridges will not support that size of a cart.” The man said “but I crossed three rivers just yesterday. There were no problems.”
The soldier said “it is against our law!” And they killed the ox, and harassed the family, making fun of their situation. But, coming down the road behind the soldiers was a young man escorting a woman on a horse. He saw what was happening, and in anger fought off the soldiers. Then he helped the farmer slaughter the ox, they prepared the meat, and stacked it on the wagon. But, the farmer said “now what am I to do?”
The young man did not say a word, but he stepped into the place where the ox was, picked up the ox yoke, and started walking. The farmer jumped up on the wagon with his family. He knew nothing of the vision of the prophet.
The young man pulling the cart had not gone very far, when more soldiers arrived, including the ones he had chased away. As they came on the scene, they saw – and some of them still knew of the vision and believed in it. They turned and ran telling everyone who would listen that the new King had come.
Well, word of this reached the dukes. All four of them got on their warhorses and raced to the scene. When they arrived, the oxcart was surrounded with the people of the kingdom. But the people parted and the dukes approached. They jumped from their horses ready to attack this would-be king.
But then, they looked at the woman still on her horse and realized that she was the queen who had left the kingdom. They looked again at the young man, and realized it was her son, the son of the king they killed.
One Duke jumped back on his horse and fled the kingdom, never to be seen again. One Duke drew his sword and killed himself. One Duke fell on his knees and said “my King! Please forgive me!” The young man, still holding the ox yoke, at the top of his voice said “of course I forgive you! Join me!”
The third Duke could hardly believe his ears, but he looked up and saw the truth in the young man’s eyes. He jumped up and stepped in on the right hand of the would-be king. But, the fourth Duke now saw his chance. One had run away, one had killed himself, one had given in to the vision. He drew his sword and screamed “I will not serve!” He tried to swing his sword to kill the young man, but could not strike him.
He raised the sword a second time, but instead of swinging it at the young man, he turned it point down to the ground and with a loud cry buried the sword all the way to the hilt. As he straightened up, he kicked the hilt and broke the sword.
Almost before the hilt could hit the ground, he was on his knees and held the hilt in his hands. Then, not daring to look up, he said “this sword killed your father. It will never kill again.” And he dropped the hilt into the dirt. And, still not daring to look up, said “I am the one who killed your father. If you can, please forgive me.”
The young man, still holding the ox yoke, broke into a huge grin, and shouted as loud as he could “of course I forgive you! Join me!”
Well, the fourth Duke could hardly believe what was happening, but he jumped up, and to shouts of joy from the people, he stepped in on the other side of the new King. And they started walking. The two dukes did not have to carry the ox yoke, the king was already doing that. But, because of the press of the people and their shouts of “the king has come, long live the king,” the dukes sometimes helped him to straighten it. But the king did all the work.
Now, what is the lesson? Which Duke are you? Are you the one who will run from Jesus? Are you the one who is so afraid of him that you die inside? Maybe you are fortunate enough to be like the Duke who immediately asked for forgiveness.
But, if you are like me, and are truly honest (chuckle), you are like the fourth Duke. We want to fight against Jesus at times, and part of our fight is against ourselves because we are not quite ready to surrender some part of ourselves that needs to be given over to Jesus.
Jesus will carry all of our burdens. He already has when he went to the cross. But I ask you again: which Duke are you? Remember, from the gospel today, Jesus said “my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
We have some work to do, as these two dukes did. But Jesus carries the burden, or rather carried it, all the way through the cross.