14th Sunday O T Year – A – 17
Zec.9:9-10, Rom.8:9, 11-13, Matt.11:25-30
On July fourth, we probably heard all or part of the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…. Send these, the homeless tempest-tossed to me.”
Today’s readings, especially the Gospel, give the same message in a more powerful way: 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.”
In the first reading, the prophet Zechariah consoles the Jews living in Palestine under Greek rule, promising them a “meek” Messianic King of peace riding on a donkey, who will give them rest and liberty.
The Responsorial Psalm (Ps 145) praises and thanks a kind and compassionate God Who “raises up those who are bowed down,” under heavy burdens. In the second reading, Paul tells the first-century Roman Christian community about two yokes, namely, the “flesh” and the “Spirit.”
He challenges them to reject the heavy and fatal yoke of the flesh and to accept the light yoke of the Spirit of Jesus. Christian spirituality, according to Paul, proceeds from the initiative of the Holy Spirit and means living in the realm of the “Spirit” as opposed to the “flesh.”
Matthew’s Gospel lists three invitations from Jesus that we his followers need to listen to attentively, since they can help to lift the air of discouragement and weariness that often pervades some parts of our communities.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.”
This is the first invitation. It’s directed toward all those who live their religion as a heavy burden. Not a few Christians live beaten down by their conscience. They aren’t great sinners.
They simply have been taught to have their sin always before them and they don’t know the joy of God’s continuous forgiveness. If they meet Jesus, they will find themselves relieved. There are also Christians who are weary of living their religion as a worn-out tradition.
If they personally meet Jesus, they will learn to be alive, trusting in God as Father. They will discover an inner joy that they don’t know yet. They will follow Jesus, not out of obligation, but out of attraction.
“Shoulder my yoke… it is easy, and my burden is light.”
That is the second invitation. Living in the presence of Jesus doesn’t weigh anyone down. On the contrary, he frees up what’s best in us, since he proposes that we live our lives making them more human, worthy, whole.
It’s not easy to find a more passionate way of living. Jesus frees us from fear and pressure, he doesn’t bring them in; he makes our liberty grow, not our slavery; he awakens in us trust, never sadness; he draws us to love, not toward laws and precepts. He invites us to live by doing good.
“Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
That is the third invitation. We need to learn from Jesus how to live like him. Jesus doesn’t complicate our life. He makes it clearer and simpler, humbler, more whole. He offers rest.
He never puts onto his followers something that he hasn’t lived himself. He invites us to follow him on the same path that he has walked. That’s why he can understand our difficulties and our struggles, he can forgive our stupidities and our faults, always encouraging us to get up again.
Jesus does not mean that the burden is easy to carry, but that it is laid on us in love. This burden is meant to be carried in love, and love makes even the heaviest burden light.
When we remember the love of God, when we know that our burden is to love, both directly and by loving men, the God Who loves us, then the burden becomes easy. Jesus is returning to the simplicity of God’s original Covenant and Law, giving people what they need to guide them on their path easily.
By following Jesus, a man will find peace, rest, and refreshment. Although we are not overburdened by the Jewish laws, we are burdened by many other things: business, concerns about jobs, marriage, money, health, children, security, old age and a thousand other things.
Jesus’ concern for our burdens is as real as his concern for the law-burdened Jews of his day. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” Jesus still gives us rest!
Is Jesus calling on those who are carrying heavy loads to come and add a yoke to their burden? Doesn’t that sound like adding affliction to the afflicted? No! Jesus is asking us to cast away our burdens and take on his yoke.
This is because, unlike the burdens we bear, his yoke is easy and his burden light. The yoke of Jesus is the love of God. By telling us: “Take my yoke . . . and you will find rest” Christ is asking us to do things the Christian way.
When we center in God, when we follow God’s commandments, we have no heavy burdens. And so, we need to unload our burdens before the Lord.
One of the effects of Worship for many of us is that it gives us a time for rest and refreshment when we let the overheated radiators of our hectic lives cool down before the Lord. This is especially true when we unload the burdens of our sins and worries on the altar and offer them to God during the Holy Mass.
But whether we are in Church, alone in our quiet spot where we come before God each day, in our homes or in the homes of our friends and neighbors, we find that prayer and Christian fellowship bring us the rest and refreshment that we all need so much.
There is nothing quite like coming to the Lord and setting aside our burdens for a while – nothing quite like having our batteries recharged, our radiators cooled down and our spirits lifted.
Jesus promises rest from the burdens that we carry – rest from the burdens of sins, legalism and judgment, from the weight of anxiety and worry, from the yoke of unrewarding labor and from the endless labor for that which cannot satisfy.
The absolution and forgiveness, which we receive as repentant sinners, take away our spiritual burden and enable us to share the joy of the Holy Spirit. Amen.