Our theme for this week is taken from today’s Gospel, in which Jesus says to us, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” The readings for today help us gain a deeper understanding of what Jesus is saying to us here, and how we can respond to him.
Although Jesus tells us to come to him, we can see in the reading from the prophet Zechariah that, actually, the first movement is on the part of God. He comes to us: “See, your king shall come to you.” God is so compassionate with us that he does not wait for us to come to him. God always reaches out to his people first, for there is no way that we could ever approach him on our own unless he first made himself available to us.
The most perfect revelation of this action of God is, of course, the Incarnation, in which God himself came to live among us in Jesus Christ. This initiative of God is a fundamental part of every Mass, as he comes to us in the form of Bread and Wine, making himself present in the Eucharist. We come to the Mass to receive him, but we can receive him only after he has first come to make himself available to us. And this is true in every moment and in every way in which we encounter God – we are able to come to him because he first of all comes to us and for us.
When God comes to us, he comes proclaiming peace, as Zechariah tells us. Our world longs for peace! Confusion and disorder, conflict and division are common everywhere. Even within ourselves we experience all kinds of chaos, war and frustration. Our emotions can be very volatile, and we are quick to lash out at others or berate ourselves. Our life is often similar to the stormy sea we read about last Tuesday, where the Apostles in the boat cried out to Jesus to save them from drowning (cf. Mt 8:23 27). Our God comes to bring us peace, to calm the storm, as Jesus did on the sea. Pope Francis tells us in this week’s Spiritual Reflection, “When Jesus enters life, peace arrives, the kind that remains even in trials, in suffering.”
The Pope also explains more fully how Jesus brings peace to us: “Jesus does not lift the burdens from our life, but the anguish from our heart; he does not take away our cross, but carries it with us. And with him every burden becomes light.” Jesus does not say, “Come to me and I will take all your burdens away.” Rather, he tells us to put down our burden and pick up his burden: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.”
What is the burden that Jesus carries, and which he asks us to take on with him? It is the burden of love. He invites us to love as he loves, which is to choose his will as the standard for all our actions. Jesus is always pouring himself out in love, intent on giving life, reconciliation and healing to all people. He is already carrying this burden of love – so when he asks us to take up his yoke, it is light, for he is already carrying it, and we are simply carrying it with him.
The heaviest burdens we experience are sometimes the ones which God never meant for us to carry in the first place. We choose them ourselves, and we end up carrying them alone. For example, if we take up the burden of striving for great honor and fame, or of attaining a position of power, or of enjoying every worldly comfort, then we carry that burden alone. Rather than help us carry it, God urges us to abandon it. If, on the other hand, we take on his burden with him, then we will find that he is right with us, carrying the load, and even carrying us, holding us in the palm of his hands. “The LORD lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.”
Jesus says that the Father has revealed these things only to the little ones, while he has hidden them from the wise and the learned. In fact, God wants everyone to have peace, and to know the freeing and refreshing truth of his yoke. But only the little and the humble are open to what he reveals. Only they acknowledge their need for God. The clever and the proud of the world do not see because they are not looking; they are self-assured. They have decided for themselves what their burden will be. Even if they find it hard to carry, they do not want to question whether they have chosen wrongly, which would upset their plans. Whenever we are unwilling to let go of our own ways and plans, unwilling to seek God’s wisdom for our lives, the peace that God wants to give us remains hidden from us.
In the second reading St. Paul says, “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 will live.” To live according to the flesh is to rely on our own natural powers and preferences; it is to choose for ourselves what burdens we will carry, with no reference to the will of God. As Paul tells us, this cannot work. It is not how God made us to live, and so its ultimate result is death. What we were made for is to have the Spirit of God dwelling in us. If we take on Christ’s yoke, and share his burden, then we can do what we could never do alone. Just as a weak person can lift a great weight as long as a strong person is there with him, helping him, so we, with the strength of the Holy Spirit, can carry burdens and endure trials which we could never carry or endure by ourselves. This is the source of our peace.
In thanksgiving to our gracious God, who comes to us and opens the way wide for us to come to him and know his peace, we say, in the words of the Responsorial Psalm: “I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God!”
Am I open to let God do his work in and through me? In my trials and sufferings, have I experienced the peace that remains in me when Jesus enters my life? Am I choosing to love as he loves, and to do his will as the standard for all my actions?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 16, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.