Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Fourteenth Sunday of OT, Year A
July 7, 2002
Zech 9:9-10; Rom 8:9-13; Mt 11:25-30
1) In making your decision to come to Mass this afternoon, you probably did not anticipate that you were about to receive one of the most incredible invitations you’ve ever received and one of the most unbelievable promises if you accept the invitation. But it comes straight from Jesus, the God-man, who loved you enough to die for you. “Come to me,” he says, “all you who labor and find life burdensome.” That’s the invitation. Come to me all you who are working hard but can’t see to fully get your head above water to feel secure; come to me all you who are burdened with anxieties of work, or family life; come to me all you who are weighed down by sorrows, who are going through life with heavy hearts because you’ve lost a loved one or are worried about a loved one; come to me all you who are pressed down by your sins and the destructive consequences that sins always bring to our lives and to the lives of those around us; all of you, come.” That’s the invitation. And here’s the extraordinary promise: And I will refresh you. Think about what he’s saying: all of you who have problems with human life — every single one of you — come to me, and I will refresh you, bring you back to life, make you see the blessing in what you see as the burden. That’s what he said to his listeners — who must have been shocked by so categorical a promise — and that’s what he says to each one of us this afternoon. Any takers? Anybody with burdens that they want Jesus to help them with? Anyone overworked?
2) We first have to tackle some of the practical questions:
a) How can Jesus promise this? That’s relatively easy. Because he’s God, he really is in control of the whole universe, of heaven, of hell, of everything. He is the Son of the Father, who knows the Father and reveals the Father to anyone who he wishes. And he loves us, enough to give his life for our own. He can deliver on this promise too.
b) How do we come to Jesus? Who is called? Well, we can first describe two groups of people who are not called.
1) The first are those who are lazy, who don’t care, who are trying to coast through human life with no real confrontation of the things that really matter. Jesus didn’t say, “Come to me all you who are lazy louches, who don’t have anything better to do, who aren’t interested in taking the responsibility for your gift of life, who are just seeking pleasure and trying to avoid all pain, and I’ll entertain you.” No. He also wasn’t saying, “Come to me all you who are successful, who have a golden touch in everything, who do plenty just to get by and then stop there, so that you can have a good, comfortable life.” No. He was specifically speaking to those who are working hard, who are trying, who are struggling to take responsibility for their own life, for the life of others, for society and the Church, who are pushing themselves in love to the limit.
2) The second group who are not called are the proud. Jesus says in the Gospel, “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.” Those who are “wise and learned” in the view of the world, Jesus is saying, don’t get it, don’t hear his invitation, or don’t respond to it. Jesus was specifically referring to the Scribes and Pharisees of the day, the religious know it alls, who despite all their learning, never really got the real essence of the faith, which is a relationship of love with God and with others. Their pride was blinding them to the realities that simpler people could more easily see. This is why Jesus said that in order to enter into the kingdom of God, we have to become like little children, simple, trusting, obedient. In our own day, Jesus’s words apply to other groups. They’d apply to many of the intellectuals, like some in universities, in the media, certain judges, who think they have all the answers and don’t need to submit to God. They’d apply to those in the Church who likewise think they have all the answers, who think that the Church can be wrong about a matter relevant to our salvation, whether they’re the people we call “conservatives” who think the Mass we’re celebrating today is not valid because it’s not the Latin Mass of 40 years ago, or “liberals,” who think that the Church should change Christ’s teaching on any number of issues, generally involving sexuality. These are people that Jesus is not calling, not because he doesn’t love them, not because he didn’t die for them, but because he knows they won’t respond to the invitation. Jesus is not saying here “Blessed are the stupid or fools” and “Cursed are the smart,” but blessed are the humble and cursed are the proud. Those who have received a great education can be extremely faithful and those who have not received any formal education can be tremendously proud and vain and still in their blindness think they know everything. But it is harder for those who have learned more to be humble. They have to get off their high horse. They have to drop to their knees in worship and recognize that they’re not God. That’s more of a temptation to the learned. It’s no surprise that Jesus chose some fishermen for his first apostles, rather than university professors, because they were much more capable of being humble and allowing God to work through them, rather than to try to do it according to their own wits. So the way we come to Jesus is through hard work and humility, through humbly striving to do God’s will. And that makes great sense when we read about how Jesus defined himself later. “I am meek and humble of heart.” In order to come to Jesus, we have to be like him who always humbly and gently tried to do God’s will. We’ll come back to this later.
c) How does Jesus promise to refresh us? He does not promise to do so by taking away our burdens. He doesn’t say, “Come to me, all you who are labor and find life burdensome, and I’ll take them all away, so that you can just relax, veg, have a long vacation.” Immediately after inviting us and promising us that he will refresh us, he says: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.” So we will find rest in this solution, to take Jesus’s yoke upon our shoulders and learn from Him who is meek and humble of heart. What’s he saying here?
1) First Jesus wants us to come to Him to learn. He is the Master. He wants us to come to him directly and to learn from him. That’s why he has us come to Mass here each Sunday, so that we can learn from Him in Sacred Scripture and learn from him on the inside through Holy Communion, when we’re properly fit to receive him. That’s also why he wants us to pray everyday.
2) Second, he wants us to learn from him in taking upon ourselves his yoke. What’s his yoke? What did he put upon his shoulders? Jesus’ yoke is his Cross, which was given to Him by His Father, so that he might save us all. He says that Cross is easy and the burden of carrying it light. At first glance, that seems ridiculous. How could having been hammered to that Cross been easy? He fell under the weight of the Cross three times. How could he call it light? He says it was easy and the burden light because of his motivation. It was done out of love. He knew the Cross had been given to him by His Father to help him to complete his mission. And he freely embraced it out of love. The Cross is not such much a sign of pain, but a sign of the love which made that pain bearable. When the Lord says he wants us to learn from him in taking his yoke upon ourselves, he is telling us to trust in the Father, who gives us our crosses every day, so that we might fulfill our mission here on earth. Whenever we take upon ourselves the Cross in love, humbly, meekly, freely and willingly embracing it, we become like Simon the Cyrene, helping Jesus carry his. And then, like that beautiful poem about the footprints in the sand, we recognize that on the beach rather than two sets of footprints, there’s only one, Jesus’s, because he then, the Good Shepherd, is carrying us and the Cross on his shoulders.
3) So to find the refreshment Jesus wants to give us, we have to change the way we bear our burdens, the way we work, to focus on our motivations. Just as on one level, Jesus’ cross wasn’t light and easy because it was incredibly painful and hard, so on our level, we’re going to have some pretty heavy crosses to bear. But on the other hand, our motivation can change it all, just like Jesus’ motivation did, just like the apostles eventually did, just like all the martyrs. When we bear our crosses out of love, embracing them not as punishments but as blessings from God, we come to rejoice in them, and find in them means to enter into a much deeper relationship with God and with human life. To receive them humbly means that God knows far better than we do what is best for us and would never give us anything that we couldn’t handle through faith in Him.
3) Jesus cannot lie. It’s a tremendous invitation, incredible promise and unbelievable pathway. Jesus calls each one of us today with all our burdens, sorrows, sins, fatigue, labor and promises to refresh us, but in order to receive that we have to not let go of our crosses or burdens, but embrace them as he embraced His, with humility, meekness, trust and love. The “wise” of the world or even in the Church might say this is a bunch of “hogwash,” an “opium” or drug for the Masses, but those who are humble will see in it the revelation by the Son of the Father and his will. Everything in heaven and in earth was handed over by the Father to the Son and the Son wants to give us it all. But the way to this inheritance is to enter into Jesus all-the-way, holding nothing back, humbly and trustingly letting him call not half the shots, not 80%, but all of them, lifting up our Crosses high as the greatest blessings we’ve received, because this sweet yoke and light burden is what unites us ever more to Jesus. Jesus was so humble he became a human being, born of a virgin in an animal stable, grew up in a little podunk town, rode into Jerusalem on an ass, tortured and mocked by those he created and knew by name, died hammered to a tree between two criminals. And that same Jesus now humbly will convert through me simple unleavened bread and wine into his own body and blood to feed you and help you through this entering into Him, to live in Him fully. When you come forward to receive the Body and Blood of this Lord who loves you enough to humble enough to become your very food, bring all your burdens to him and unite them to Him in Holy Communion, so that from within you will receive that refreshment for which your heart longs and which His Sacred Heart longs to give you.