Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Parish, New Bedford, MA
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
July 2, 2005
Zech 9:9-10; Rom 8:9, 11-13; Mt 11:25-30
1) In coming to Mass today, you probably did not anticipate that you were about to receive one of the most incredible invitations you’ve ever received and, if you say yes to it, one of the most unbelievable guarantees. The invitation comes straight from Jesus, the God-man, our Savior: “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 family life, work, age or health; 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 the health of someone close to you; come to me all you who are pressed down by your sins and the harm sins always bring to our lives and to the lives of those around us; all of you, COME.” After this invitation, he gives us the extraordinary promise: “And I will refresh you.” Think about what Jesus is 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 a burden.” That’s what he said to his listeners two thousand years ago — who must have been shocked by so categorical a promise — and that’s what he says to each one of us today. Any there any takers? Does anyone here at St. Anthony’s need Jesus’ help to bear heavy burdens?
2) To understand better Jesus’ amazing offer, we first have to look at whom Jesus is summoning and whom he isn’t. Jesus addresses his invitation to those who are “labor” and are carrying heavy burdens. He is not calling to himself in this way those who are lazy, who pass the buck, who don’t roll up their sleeves and work up a sweat. He’s not inviting those who are seeking a comfortable, easy life. When Jesus says “follow me!,” he’s not intending to lead us to Club Med or the Bahamas; he’s going to lead us along the same path he trod, which was a hard-working path all the way Calvary. Jesus is speaking, rather, to those who are working hard, who are striving to take responsibility for their own life, for the life of their loved ones, for society and the Church, who are pushing themselves in love to the limit. Jesus had told us once to pray to the Harvest Master, his Father, “to send LABORERS into his vineyard” (Mt 9:38 ), not BODIES into his vineyard. The way to salvation and the salvation of others in that vineyard is through responding to all his gifts with faith, love, fatigue and perspiration. It’s those who labor, and they alone, whom he promises to refresh.
3) The second group of people whom Jesus is not calling is the proud, the arrogant, those who already think they know it all. He 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 their own eyes don’t capture what Jesus is revealing or value his invitation because they don’t think they need it. It’s only the “little ones,” those who are humble, those who know how much they need the Lord, who know the worth of what Jesus wants to give them. Jesus himself is “meek and humble of heart,” and in order to understand what he wants to reveal, we need to become meek and humble as well. And there are great consequences hanging on whether or not we do. Jesus said that in order to enter into his Kingdom, in order to get to heaven, we need to become like “little children.” This is a call not to be childish, but child-like: simple, trusting, obedient. If we think we “know it all,” we really know very little, either about ourselves or the power and the wisdom of God.
4) The second thing we have to tackle is how Jesus promises to refresh us. He does not pledge to do so by TAKING AWAY our burdens. That’s what most of us think we want. If we’re dealing with the stress and the fatigue of life, most of us think we want the Lord to take away all our hardships, so that we can live without stress, without money concerns, without the need to put in hard-working days. We want the Lord to exchange whatever difficulties we have for an easier, more comfortable, relaxing life. That’s not what Jesus knows is best for us nor wants to do. Immediately after inviting us and promising us that he will refresh us, he gives us his remedy: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.” To find our refreshment involves two things:
a. 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. It’s also the reason why he wants us to pray each day, because in prayer he continues to whisper to us the path to humility and meekness.
b. Second, we need to take Jesus’ yoke upon our shoulders. What is that yoke? It’s what he put on his shoulders: his Cross. At first glance, it seems ridiculous that Jesus called that yoke “easy” and “light.” After all, he fell three times under its weight and it was the difficult instrument of his own painful crucifixion. What made him capable of calling it sweet and light is the love with which he bore it. The Cross is not so much a sign of pain and suffering, but a sign of the love for the Father and for us that 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 that we need to take his love upon us and bear our own crosses like he bore his. There is the great, true story from Boys Town when in 1921 a crippled boy with leg braces had difficulty walking. Other boys would take turns giving him a ride on their backs. A photographer saw the scene and snapped a photo that became famous. When the boy carrying his lame friend was asked whether he was heavy, he replied, “He ain’t heavy; he’s my brother.” The love he had for his fellow orphan was so great that he was willing to bear the pain. That’s what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel. And he’s not asking us to do anything he himself hasn’t already done for us. He, the Good Shepherd, bears each of us, his lost sheep, on his shoulders, and doesn’t complain about the weight, for, to him, we’re not heavy, we’re his brothers and sisters. The more we love like him, the lighter and the easier our burdens will be.
5) As I take up, in Christ’s name, his sweet and light yoke as your new parochial administrator, I ask you to pray for me, that I may always pay the price necessary, and bear whatever burdens, to bring you closer to the Lord. Many priests in the diocese have told me that a parish this active and this big will be a huge burden on one man, especially one who is so young , who at the same time has become executive editor of the diocesan newspaper. Parishioners have already asked me how I’ll be able to take the place of two full-time priests and still have another job. One of the funeral directors for the three funerals I’ve had since beginning was staring at my shoes at the cemetery, and I started to get a little self-conscious that my shoes my need some shining. After he kept doing it, I queried whether there was something wrong with my shoes. He smiled and said, “I was just looking at the size of your feet, because you have very big shoes to fill!” What’s obvious to me and it seems to everyone else is that this parish is not a yoke I will be able to bear alone. But I know Christ will help me — as he has every day of my priesthood — and I’m counting on you to help me as well. Working hard and humbly together, you, the Lord, and I, we can ensure that the future of this parish will be glorious as its tremendous past. The Lord has given us to each other, so that we might carry each other on each other’s shoulders all the way to Him.
6) We begin that mutual carrying here at this Mass, where we carry each other up to the Altar. The Eucharist is the place where Jesus gives us Himself within so that he might help us bear our burdens literally from within. The Eucharist is the summit of Jesus’ meekness and humility, who loved us so much that he became our food under the appearances of bread and wine. The Eucharist is the place where, simply, Jesus refreshes us. “Come to me, all you who labor and find life burdensome and I will refresh you.” Jesus makes that invitation anew today. He’s waiting for our RSVP.