“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
I have not spoken to anyone in these past months who is not in some way or another “burdened.”
Some are burdened with anxiety or fear or low-level depression.
Some are burdened with financial distress because of the loss of job, being furloughed or cutting back of hours.
Some are burdened with the struggle for justice in our nation concerning racism, bigotry, economic disparity, treatment of immigrants and minorities, homelessness, etc.
Some are burdened with discouragement with the lack of civil dialogue and the inability of elected officials to find constructive compromise and a path forward for the common good.
Some are burdened by the struggle with habitual sin that they can’t seem to conquer or move beyond, at times losing hope in the transforming grace of God.
Except for personal financial distress, I can change the beginning of each of these sentences from “some are” to “I am.”
Even I, your pastor, your shepherd and one who seeks to lead you to Jesus Christ does not always and immediately turn first to Jesus.
Jesus invites, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”
Jesus invites, he never forces. “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.”
As the prophet Zechariah proclaims, “Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, or daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you, a just Savior is he, meek and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass.”
As a kid growing up on the south side of Chicago, educated in St. Louis, Chicago, Boston, Baltimore and New York City, with my head filled with academic excellence, when I stepped into the reality of rural Tanzania, I didn’t have a clue. I truly was in a foreign land in ways large and small.
Today’s gospel truly came alive for me during the first rainy season in Musoma, on the shores of Lake Victoria.
The short rains come in late November or early December after months of hot, dry weather with no rain at all. The land is parched. When it begins to rain, there is excitement and an intense focus on plowing and planting, for if not entered into with all one’s heart and soul, mind and strength, one might not have food enough for the coming year. Famine and starvation always loom large as these folks were subsistence farmers and lived on what they were able to grow.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.”
Many people had to turn over the ground with a “jembe” or a heavy hoe to break the hard, baked soil. Those families who had cows and were able to purchase a simple plow, were far better off.
The yokes they used for the two oxen were usually handmade and very simple. They had a pair of slots in which they would insert wooden slats that would rest on the shoulders of the oxen. A large metal eyelet was screwed into the middle of the yoke to which was attached a chain that was then attached to the hand guided plow.
One of the pair of oxen was older and more experienced. This one would help guide the younger oxen, teaching it how to follow the shouts and directions of the farmer. This seasoned oxen was essential to plowing, planting and eventually harvesting.
Jesus invites us to come to him with all that weighs us down and be yoked to him. He will teach us. He will guide us. He will show us all that has been handed over to him by his heavenly Father. He will invite us to dependence on him for his yoke is easy, and his burden is light.
Yet, on this Fourth of July weekend, as we celebrate “Independence Day” so many, many people find it hard to be yoked to Jesus and his Church.
They want independence, not dependence. Dependence of any kind reeks of oppression and domination. So they walk away from Jesus, from the Catholic Church he founded, from the institution that has labored and assisted those in need more consistently, more effectively, more compassionately throughout the centuries than any government, nation or other religious institution that has ever existed.
“I’m spiritual not religious,” is the mantra today. In terms of religious preference, the fastest-growing segment of the population are the “nones,” those who chose no religious affiliation of any kind, none.
If one is not yoked to Jesus, one is yoked to sin in one form or another. As St. Paul writes in our second reading, “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you live.” The divine paradox that I preached about last week.
“Jesus exclaimed, ‘I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to little ones.’”
“Come to me… Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart.”
What we have to offer our families, our communities, our workplaces and our nation is our Catholic faith rooted in prayer and sacraments and lived out in the spiritual works of mercy which are:
- To instruct the ignorant;
- To counsel the doubtful;
- To admonish sinners;
- To bear wrongs patiently;
- To forgive offences willingly;
- To comfort the afflicted;
- To pray for the living and the dead.
And the Corporal works of Mercy:
- To feed the hungry;
- To give drink to the thirsty;
- To clothe the naked;
- To shelter the homeless;
- To visit the sick;
- To visit the imprisoned;
- To bury the dead.
Following Jesus, being yoked to Jesus, to be dependent upon him, is how and where we will find rest and, in a divine paradox, true freedom. Everything else will leave us tired and feeling burdened.
This is a truth that our present culture so stridently rejects. Its loudest advocates tell us they know better, they have the answer, that they will show us the way, the truth and the life as they define it and then want to impose on us.
If anyone opposes them, they become the enemy. They are the ones to be rejected, shamed and oppressed. Advocates of personal responsibility are ridiculed and their admonitions mocked. Constructive dialogue is replaced by shouting and shaming. Yes, we must have the hard conversations, yet we must do so with mutual respect and a true, listening heart.
One example is that good, honest, upright and loyal police officers are demeaned because of the inhumane and horrific action of some. I suggest you read Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s Op Ed piece in the New York Post this past Thursday.
Extrapolated to some of its worst expression in our world today is this exerpt from an email I received yesterday.
“I see firsthand the tragedy and challenges the people are faced with in order to get here and to build a better life. My assistant’s family all came here from Michoacan, Mexico except her cousin Adolfo who stayed to work the family farm which he was doing quite successfully. He didn’t want to let the drug lords push him out and refused to leave.
“Last month he was kidnapped in front of his 10 yrs. old son Fernando and taken ‘to the police station for questioning.’ Imagine how traumatizing that was for his son. I was shocked/in awe that they expressed gratitude that his body was returned to them (albeit in parts) because they said many disappear and are never seen again. At least they can give him a funeral. Can you imagine? The bag was discovered by his 7 yrs. old son Jose Maria. It is beyond imagination and the fact families have to justify their presence here… It is heartbreaking.”
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
This is the promise of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Nothing else and no one else can give us the life we were created for – eternal life with God forever, the fullness of all that is, was and ever shall be.
This is the rest we long for my sisters and brothers. Let us settle for nothing less. Eternal rest grant unto Adolfo, O Lord.