One of the most popular sports for young people in Bayonne, New
Jersey on a summer evening was fence climbing. Seeking the allure
of the great outdoors in an urban environment required us to find
the pristine nature behind houses. We could have easily gotten where
we wanted to go by walking the sidewalks but it was far more adventurous
to experience the rugged splendor of trees, cyclone fences, shrubs,
clotheslines, flowers and crushed marble chips by “cutting
through” various backyards. The fact that home owners frowned
on bands of boys traversing their territories only added to the
adventure – that and the odd chance encounters with feral
cats gave us all the makings of a true wilderness adventure, more
There was one problem—I was the least athletic in the group.
Most times I needed a “boost” to get over the fences.
While my rugged individualism called out to me to get over on my
own my physical inability and the fact that before I could get over
the fence on my own property owners were opening their windows and
yelling what did NOT seem to be encouragements to me, I needed help
over the fences. I graciously accepted “a little help from
Today’s readings give us a challenge to our sense of independence.
More is at stake then jumping a fence!
Isaiah reminds the people of Israel that salvation is in the hands
of God and is not achievable on their own. This does not mean that
the people should be passive—but that they must depend on
their God. While the Golden Calf is seen as the classic temptation
to idolatry, more often than not the people stray from God through
the idolatry of independence and self-determination.
Jesus too invites us not to be on our own. He invites us to drawn
near and to take up his yoke. He tells us he will lighten our own
burden, made heavy through our independence, through dependence
on Him. Take up my yoke Jesus tells us. A yoke is a harness used
to coordinate the movements of an animal with someone running a
plow or other device. Don’t be independent, be part of Christ.
Complete dependence on God is also interdependence. God asks us
to be just, to lighten the burdens of others, to feed the hungry,
to comfort the mourner, to do God’s work in the world.
When not jumping fences and running through yards I was also an
altar boy. My favorite devotion was the Stations of the Cross. No
pious lad I, what I liked best was holding a candle and watching
the flame and wax. When not caught in pyrotechnic reverie I do recall
paying attention to the Stations now and again. I was always most
taken with Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus carry the cross. Maybe
in the back of my mind I remembered I was the kid who could not
get over fences on my own so I knew how important he was to Christ!
I gave up a career in sports after realizing that poor fence jumpers
are not destined for track and field glory. Instead I went into
academe and succeeded fairly well, forgetting for a time that I
needed boosts over fences. More recently I was diagnosed with MS
and am living with double vision and ataxia (imbalance). Now I need
more than a boost over fences. I need to ask people to find things
for me, to help me walk in difficult places, and to drive me places
to which I cannot walk.
So the readings strike home to me today in a very particular way.
I am now even more aware of my dependence on God as I work with
this newly diagnosed disease. I pray more and I often ask people
to pray for me. I cannot be as independent as I once thought I was
but must become more interdependent. I cannot save myself spiritually
or physically but must rely on prayer and the intervention of doctors
and students and colleagues and friends.
Sometimes it takes a cyclone fence or double vision to bring us
to our senses about the reality of our dependence and interdependence.
Blessedly, our God is a God of boosts. So are our communities.