Fourteenth Sunday A
Zec 9:9-10; Ps 145:1-2, 8-11, 13-14; Rom 8:9,11-13; Mt 11:25-30
This verse from Matthew 11:28 was always one of my favorites: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Rest, it sounds so inviting! How many of us don’t have any burdens? You see, most of us do. And even if we don’t have our own personal burdens, we might still be burdened with the sufferings of our loved ones – from our children, to our parents, to our country and even our world, that burden of suffering is immense. Yet, there in the middle of our blazing desert, Jesus offers us an oasis. There in the middle of the ocean’s thickest fog, Jesus is our lighthouse. Rest, it sounds so inviting!
But we need to be very careful with plucking out Matthew 11:28 from the rest of the passage, because in His very next line, Jesus is talking about ‘our taking His yoke.’ Now, we may not know a whole lot about farming, but we do know that a yoke is one of those harnesses that oxen use to pull a plow. And that surely doesn’t sound like “rest” to me.
It actually reminds me of a time in grad school when none of my lab projects were working according to the plan, I was in the middle of several huge academic projects, my wife was pregnant with our first child, and I was working 12-16 hours every day; when my professor made the comment, “Joe, you really could use a break.”
Well, after my mind wandered back from the soft sands of Tahiti, I realized that Doc didn’t mean a total, leave the world, vacation. He meant, it would be nice for me to find something that finally worked, ‘a break’. And actually, what he really meant was, “if we could get together and brainstorm some of those issues, together, we just might find an answer that could lighten that burden.”
You see, Jesus isn’t offering us a vacation in Tahiti. But what he is offering is a whole new look at what’s burdening us. A step back off the sand, to discern the true oasis from the mirage. Maybe some of our burdens are things WE have no control over. And finding their solution truly is a mirage. But if we let go of some of that ‘need for control,’ St. Paul calls it the ‘flesh,’ we just might find new answers. There IS Life after death. There IS Relief after our pain. There IS Hope after hopelessness.
This is why Jesus often spoke about the “little ones” and the “faith of a child.” A child doesn’t get stuck in the ‘control mode’. A child isn’t embarrassed by asking those bold questions like: “Why did you do that?” or “What does that mean?” or “Can you help me?” As a matter of fact, a child DEPENDS on our help, just as we should always depend on the help of Jesus.
In all three of our readings today, we heard something contrary to the “world’s” definition of “making sense.” The prophet Zechariah, some 520 years before the birth of Jesus, spoke of a ‘peasant king’ who would bring peace to the world – without the use of swords or arrows. That was quite an unfathomable concept 2500 years ago, as well as it is today – at least from a ‘worldly point of view’.
Then St. Paul reminds the early Christians in the Church of Rome, and us, that if we are to truly LIVE, we have to ‘die to the flesh.’ While the world, to the contrary, might say, “My way or the highway”. You see, Paul didn’t mean physical death. He symbolically meant, death – to our self-centeredness, death – to feeling like we have to control everything in our lives. If instead, we give that control over to the Holy Spirit within us, – not only will WE be taken care of, but we will have the capacity to take care of many other people as well.
I like to look at it as a compass within me. I know that the compass needle will always point North. But if I constantly force it to point at me, by placing myself in front of that needle, then I’ll never get to see anything but South, and I can hurt a lot of people in the process. But if I let the Spirit of Christ control my compass, instead of me, then I’ll find that it WILL point to me – when I need it to. But it will also point to others when I can help them. And in the meantime, I will get to see a whole new world, not just South, – and I WILL truly LIVE.
Which brings us full circle back to Jesus. While the temple leaders of His time were demanding strict adherence to the 613 Laws of the Torah, which were often unreasonably heavy “yokes” for the common people to bear, Jesus said, lets turn our compasses to the people first. Instead of Control, lets offer them Love instead. And in turn, they will learn to love one another, instead of hate. And you know, sometimes, this release of control will cause them a little Humility.
So Jesus said, look at me, contrary to the world, I am meek and I am humble of heart, yet MY “yoke” is light. So, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” I’m not sure about you, but I can think of no better invitation!