Part company with every brother who bucks out of the harness. – 2 Thessalonians 3:6a (Cotton Patch Version of the New Testament)
Way before tractors/trucks were horses/mules/oxen and plows/wagons. It was a popular image in Jesus’ day (Matthew 11:28-30; Luke 9:62). The sense is that if you follow Jesus, you have to be directed by him. He’s the driver. You get into the harness, pull the load, and follow his lead.
Rather sounds un-American, doesn’t it?
“Bucking out of the harness” is the Cotton Patch Version’s way of expressing the old American Revolution’s mottos of “Live Free or Die” and “Don’t Tread on Me.” Personal, individual freedom is sacred. “Don’t tell me to wear a mask in this pandemic!”
Yet none of us really is free. We all accept the harness of our choosing. If it’s the harness of no harness, then we’re really choosing to enslave ourselves to our own impulses and the icons who’ll feed those impulses. Paul calls this living according to “selfish desires” (Galatians 5:16-21).
Maybe this fantasy of American freedom is why it’s so difficult to be Christian in our society today. If it’s all about us, after all, then we’re going to mold Jesus in our image. We’ll pick and choose what we like from his teachings, with getting into heaven being the cherry on the top.
Yet there Jesus is, inviting us to put on that harness and see how heavy it is.
One day a young man came up to me in a restaurant and started witnessing. “What does it mean to follow Jesus?” he asked. I thought for a moment before replying, “It means following him and not trying to lead him.”
I’ll stick by that answer. Really, what would life look like it we accepted his harness of unconditionally loving others?
So much for “Live Free or Die.”