Zech 9:9-10; Rom 8:9, 11-13; Matt 11:25-30
“COME TO ME ALL YOU WHO LABOUR AND ARE BURDENED”
In the Gospel of this 14th Sunday, Jesus invites us: “Come to me all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest”. These words generally fall among the loveliest and most cherished words in Holy Scripture. Jesus comes to us as a friend who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great compassion” (Ps 86:15; Ps 145:8). He is, as it were, a “bridge over troubled waters,” as one song puts it. He teaches us to cultivate relinquishment, the ability to “let go” of our anxieties and to put ourselves in God’s hands. Here, we are called to distinguish between WORRY and CONCERN. Worry is an emotional response that is stressful and draining. It is problem-oriented. Concern, on the other hand, is a rational and constructive process – and it is solution-oriented. It is the difference between fear unaccompanied by useful action and the determination to calmly look for a solution.
- THE HISTORIC CONTEXT OF JESUS’ “LIGHTENING OUR BURDENS”
During the years that Jesus lived in Nazareth, he saw the Scribes and Pharisees live a privileged existence. They lorded it over the common people. They had no understanding at all of what life was like for ordinary people. They emphasized only the Law of Moses and did not bother about extenuating circumstances. In fact, they even added hundreds more of their own rules and regulations, thus increasing the people’s burdens. To top it off, these ‘holy men’ had very little, if any, sympathy for those who found their burdens too much to bear.
Jesus, personally, saw all this first-hand. He was fully aware of the struggles and frustrations that the ordinary people had to endure. He was very aware of the heavy burdens that life placed on their shoulders. Consequently, he felt deeply for these people and wanted to lighten their loads. People came to him from all walks of life and from very far distances with their burdens of sickness and misery. All of them had their burdens lightened by Jesus. His mere presence could bring peace to an anguished soul. And, you know what? Jesus can still do it today and now! He is actually making our burdens light even today as we speak!
- WHAT IS YOKE?
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” For many of us today, the word “yoke” has little or no meaning. But the people of Jesus’ time would fully understand the meaning of a yoke. In ancient times when people carried a load, they would carry a wooden yoke. They could, for example, carry two buckets of water on each side of the yoke making it possible to carry burdens they could not have carried otherwise. In another sense, two oxen would sometimes be yoked together to help plow a field. Combining the strength of the two animals made the tilling and planting much easier.
There are two things worth noting about a yoke. First, a yoke was custom made for each ox. It was not a one-size-fits-all, but something specifically made for the individual team of oxen. Yokes were carved of solid wood and fitted so well that the yoke would not rub sores on the ox’s shoulders. In this way, yokes provided as much comfort as possible to the oxen so that they could do a maximum amount of work, without much strain. Second, the yoke allowed the two animals to pull together. Work was shared, and when day was done, the oxen were tired but not exhausted.
In our everyday lives we regularly see examples of shared burdens and we all know that when it comes to solving problems, “two heads are better than one”. Even the brightest of research scientists generally work as a team. People who lift heavy stuff know that their jobs are best done as a team. What one person cannot move or pick-up, most often two can. Husbands and wives know that when they are emotionally burdened, that what seems almost impossible to handle, the two of them, together, can find a ray of hope or light at the end of the tunnel. They can even find solutions that strengthen their mutual love.
Jesus tells us that if we take his yoke as ours, our burden will be tailored to our needs, no more than we can bear. Jesus even takes it a step forward when he says “for my yoke is easy and my burden light”. Jesus will be “yoked” to us, he will share our burden to be sure we are not overcome by the burdens of this world. We are not pulling the yoke alone and by our power, but together with Christ and by the strength that comes from him. The Son of God wears the other yoke as our partner. He is our yoke-mate. Because he loves us, our divine master is ready to bear part of our burdens, especially the burdens we cannot bear. Jesus is not just a teacher who gives you homework but also a friend who helps you do it. He actually promises us rest.
- WHAT CONSTITUTES OUR BURDENS TODAY?
A large part of our burdens are self-imposed. We commit sin. Some people keep spending far more than they earn and put themselves into heavy debts. Some indulge in criminal acts that keep them worried about getting caught. Some people carry around grudges and bitterness over things that happened in the past. Added to all these, most of time we feel that there is more to do than there is time to do these things. We are constantly “on the go”. When we do dare to sit still we feel guilty that we are wasting time. We feel weighed down emotionally, occupationally, financially, and materially. We are often in a hurry. We are enslaved to the clock on the wall. Very often, we cannot sleep. We develop high blood pressure; we have no energy. Our nerves are on edge. We feel like we are helplessly being carried along by the current of life. But the odd thing is that people sometimes feel important and harbour a sense of pride when they say: “I am just too busy”. Contrary to this opinion, Jesus is telling us that an overloaded life is not a good thing. For, when we are burdened:
- a) We tend to drift from basic values in life. We are ready to cut ethical corners. We find it difficult to make good decisions. We recall that Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money”(Matthew 6:24). Jesus knew what he was talking about.
- b) Our relationships suffer. Because we are always hurrying; we do not have any time to sit and talk to one another. There is always something that needs to “get done”. We are constantly battling a seemingly all-consuming to-do list. Our spouse, children, friends, and loved ones are increasingly pushed aside. We want to be close, we want to give of ourselves to others, but we have nothing left because we are exhausted and empty. We feel distant and isolated from the people around us and we do not seem to know why.
- c) We tend to view life as a contest.We live a life of constant competition. Everyone else around us is seen as a competitor. It is no wonder that so many people are angry. Instead of “weeping with those who weep” we tend to be impatient with those who weep and resentful to those who rejoice.
- d) We tend to be spiritually shallow. (We are not being judgmental here! It is quite an honest observation.) We know from experience that when we are stressed, we find it hard to pray. We try to pray but we are unable to concentrate. We find ourselves moving our relationship with God down the priority list. Rather than seeing our walk with Christ as the heart and center of our lives, we tend to see it as one more obligation we have to meet.
Jesus is telling us, today, that he wants to give us rest. He is willing to lighten these loads. We do not have to live this way!
- THE SOLUTION TO BEING OVERLOADED
Jesus understood our human situation. He frequently stopped to rest. Several times, in his pastoral life, he took a boat across the Sea of Galilee so the group could have some quiet time. Jesus often found time to be alone with God. Even God took the seventh day (the Sabbath) to rest and enjoy his creation. We also need to factor time into our lives so we will have space and energy for the things that really matter. Taking a rest is not a sign laziness. It is wisdom. It is planning for the unexpected. It helps us to reserve our energy for what truly matters. Creating time and space to rest gives us many benefits:
- a) It gives us time to enjoy life.When we take a rest, it gives us time to enjoy life more fully. It gives us time to do simple things like stopping and smelling a flower, pausing and enjoying a sunset, visiting a friend, taking a relaxed walk, reading a book, or just taking a nap. It removes the clutter from our lives so that we can start seeing more clearly.
- b) It helps us remain physically charged. Our bodies need a chance to readjust themselves. The body need to be given a chance to restore itself. The psalmist is right when he say: we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”Even a car has to stop before it can be repaired. The same is true of our lives. We must slow down and recharge our energy.
- c) It gives us time to respond to the needs of others. We see needy people all around us. Most of us would want to help but we do not help because we have other things we have to do. We would like to participate in the activities of our Christian communities, but we are too busy to do so. Taking a rest as Christ invites us to do gives us time to respond to God’s promptings.
- d) It gives us time to hear from God.“The Psalmist says: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land” (Ps 37:7-9). In Psalm 46 we are told, “Be still and know that I am God”. Like any relationship, a solid and good relationship with God takes time. We must spend time with him. We cannot do any of these things if we are too busy.
- LEARN FROM ME
In order to have the peace of God in the midst of a world of hectic madness, Jesus invites us to “COME TO HIM”. His invitation is not simply to come and sit around him. He further asks us to “LEARN FROM HIM”. He wants to teach us. We must allow him to teach us a lesson on HUMILITY. He is proposing that we simplify our lives. He wants us to humbly acknowledge weights that we carry and come to him for rest. We must behave like those “little ones” (innocent children) to whom God reveals what remains hidden from the clever and the learned. Those who acknowledge their lack of cleverness, lack of self-sufficiency, and pledge themselves to a total dependence on God, will enjoy the peace that only Jesus can give. True peace and rest come from only one source: the meek and humble heart of Jesus. (It is interesting that this text is also used on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.) Jesus promises us his peace. He wants us to enjoy the journey. But in order to do that, we must learn to look at life differently. We must learn to find our joy and delight in him rather than in the stuff of the world. We must slow down before we miss out on life.
We must make no mistake: Christian faith is not magic. Christ does not promise us some magical solution to our problems. After all, his life was not painless and totally free of burdens. Quite the contrary! What Jesus does offer us is his invitation to be yoked with him, to pull our burdens and tasks through life with him, sharing his yoke, drawing on his strength, and letting him help us while we help him accomplish his tasks. Christ does not do things FOR us; he does things WITH us. He does not TAKE AWAY our burdens, he HELPS US to bear their weight.
Today, Jesus is inviting us to cast our burdens unto him, and take his yoke. It is an invitation to associate and identify ourselves with him: our destiny with his destiny, our vision with his vision and our mission with his mission. It is to know that we are not pulling the yoke alone and by our power, but together with Christ and by the strength that comes from him. In faith and humility, let us attach ourselves to him, in whom we live and move and have our being!