The readings from today's Gospel remind me of a certain Marist Brother I taught with who had a special way of attracting the attention of a class of rowdy boys. He would walk to the front of the class and simply begin speaking in a low voice about anything at all that came to mind and when there was a slight gap in the noise he would quietly say: ... and you'll all get one free.
There's a very similar line in today’s Gospel: … and I will give you rest.
This line always seems to get our attention. Who is there among us who does not, in some way or another, long for rest? It may be physical rest from hard work, family life, or even illness; rest from the worries and the fears we all have from time to time; or rest simply from the burden of being who we are, with all our faults and failings and shortcomings - the burden of being ourselves.
So these words of Jesus really seem to be meant for us. We qualify both because we long for rest and because we feel overburdened. Perhaps, therefore, we would do well to have a closer look at these words and try to understand them a little better.
COME to me …
Much of the burden of our lives is that so often we don't seem to be going anywhere. There is no task more difficult to do than the one which seems to have no point; no suffering more difficult to bear than the one which has no meaning; no life more difficult to live than one which has no direction. When Jesus asks us to come to him he offers us the ultimate meaning for our lives and at once so much of the pain disappears and we find already a certain peace.
We notice also that Jesus does not say: Look at me, think about me, talk about me, fantasize or read about me but - COME to me … .
We must do as Abraham did, leaving behind all the things which prevent us from moving and submitting our whole lives to him - following him into a land that he will show us. At the moment we decide to come to Jesus we see exactly how far we are from him. We experience the joy of making progress - and the pain of still not having arrived. That is always part of the human condition but he gives us strength to commit ourselves to the journey.
Jesus says: Come to ME …
Coming to Jesus is coming to a Person. It is not primarily coming to faith in a body of Church doctrine, nor is it a whole network of religious practices such as the Pharisees engaged in. We must be sure that it is to the person of Jesus that we are coming because nothing else can give us the rest for which we long.
Come to me all you who labour and are OVERBURDENED …
Jesus had told the Apostle Paul that his grace would be enough for him and yet here he seems to be implying that there are indeed some of us who are OVER-burdened. How did we get that way?
Could it be that we have chosen to burden ourselves with cares and worries we are not really meant to carry? When we load our own backs with burdens we tend to overload ourselves, and because they are not Christ's burdens we are unable to find rest. Each one of us must honestly examine his life and ask which of the burdens he is carrying is in reality of his own choosing. Jesus is saying to us: ... Yes, MY yoke is easy and MY burden light.
Then Jesus says: SHOULDER my yoke ….
Not only must we carry only the burden Jesus asks us to carry, we must learn from him how to carry it. SHOULDER my yoke ... . A burden half-heartedly carried is very difficult to bear. How often do we not just push it along or drag it behind us?
I am reminded of a visit to my brother-in-law's sheep property during the mouse plague. My little nephews insisted on taking me up on the hill paddock to show me all the mouse warrens and, as it happened, we took the two dogs with us. I noticed that we had to stop every ten feet or so to pull thistles out of the dogs' paws because they were limping so badly. The next day, however, when we ran a mob of sheep through the same paddock, the thistles didn't seem to bother the dogs at all. They were too busy, wholeheartedly doing the task they were supposed to do!
We all have burdens but the yoke of Jesus is the only one worth carrying. Jesus suffered the loneliness, the rejection and the persecution of living his human life in faithfulness to the will of his Father. This is the yoke we are called to share with him - the burden he asks us and helps us to carry.
Shoulder my yoke AND LEARN FROM ME …
Today we have come to the school where Jesus teaches us what it means to carry his yoke; to forgive those who accuse us, to love those who hate us, to be patient with those who annoy us, to go to the assistance of those who need us, to give our very lives for love of others. Jesus shows us how to do this by showing us how he did it. He takes bread and wine and says: This is my Body and Blood - this is me - given for you. Take ...