Burdened and weary from life? Go to Him whose ‘yoke is easy and burden is light’
Jul 1, 2020
The Gospel appointed for the Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time gives us a window into one of the great human moments in the life of Christ. Jesus exclaims, “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.”
In the parallel text in Luke’s Gospel, it says that Jesus “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” as He said these words. It’s a beautiful image for us to consider: Jesus rejoicing in the Spirit and praising His Father for the goodness of the Father’s plan of salvation. It really shows us the love shared by the Holy Trinity, and the love by which God reveals Himself to us and binds us to Himself.
Christ’s rejoicing is especially poignant because it comes at a difficult time in His earthly ministry. In the run-up to this section of Matthew’s Gospel, we see Christ describe the faithlessness of so many of the people to whom He had tried to proclaim the Kingdom of God. And just after this Sunday’s text, the Pharisees will criticize Jesus’ disciples and challenge Jesus Himself, the conspiracy to put Christ to death will begin, and they will even accuse Him of acting by the power of Satan.
So Jesus was facing rejection, visible failure, and was about to face severe criticism, accusation, and the threat of death. But in this moment we get to witness Christ’s joy, and the deep sense of fulfillment He has at seeing the faith of those He describes as the “little ones.”
Then Our Lord does something that ought to catch our special attention. Not only does He show us His joy and fulfillment, but He invites us to share in them, beginning with three simple words: “Come to me.”
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
I doubt there is a person reading this article who has not at one point or another found life burdensome. Maybe that is what you think of life right now. Most of us have the strength and the skill to deal with most of our problems, with God’s help. But sometimes we just hit the proverbial wall, and we do not know what to do. And, quite frankly, there are some people who seem to hit the wall over and over, much more often than other people do.
There is a great scene in the film It’s a Wonderful Life (not a movie we usually think about at this time of year, I admit), in which George Bailey is, in his own words, “at the end of (his) rope.” George is in this state because of financial ruin and the cumulative effect of all the sacrifices he has made and the challenges he has faced over the course of his life. He is at home, taking his frustration out on his family, and at one point begins to climb the stairs to the second floor. He places his hand on the front post of the banister, and the knob at the top comes off in his hand. George, bubbling over with emotion, looks at the knob as if it was the devil himself, and it seems to take all of his strength to put it back into place.
Now, any of us may or may not have ever fallen as deep into despair as George Bailey, but all of us know what it is like to feel like we are at the end of our ropes. The crises our society faces, our own family problems, financial problems, personal failure, sickness, personal rejection — any or all of these things can afflict us from time to time. And Jesus has one answer to all of us, no matter what challenges we’re facing: “Come to me.”
When we come to Jesus, we come to the One Who has suffered more rejection, more apparent failure, more poverty, and a more humiliating death than anyone has ever done. And yet Jesus can rejoice and praise the Father. This is the secret power to which we become privy when we come to Jesus. We learn from Him how to persevere in joy and peace and love, no matter what we face in this life. We learn to cherish the good things the Father has given us, and the apparently small victories that in the final analysis may not be so small, after all. We learn the value of simplicity and of simple faith.
We learn from Him how to persevere in joy and peace and love, no matter what we face in this life. We learn to cherish the good things the Father has given us, and the apparently small victories that in the final analysis may not be so small, after all. We learn the value of simplicity and of simple faith.
And more than all of this, when we come to Jesus and take His yoke on our shoulders, we find that we stand shoulder to shoulder with Him. I am no farmer, but I am told that the way a yoke works is that when two oxen are yoked together, each is able to pull according to its respective strength, the stronger ox pulling the greater load and the weaker ox pulling less. What does that say about our situation when we are yoked with the Son of God? As the saying goes, if God brought you to it, He will bring you through it. But you have to get close enough for Him to do the bringing.
This does not mean our challenges no longer involve any suffering — suffering is always a part of life. But even our human experience tells us how much easier it can be to face serious challenges with the support of a good friend or family member. How much more should this be the case with our best Friend, our Brother, and our Lord?
A final point: Just as Jesus does not merely show us what it means to rejoice and praise the Father in the midst of sorrows, but invites us to join Him, so we can’t settle for merely accepting Jesus’ offer ourselves. As good as it is for us to accept, and to know the joy and peace of Jesus, we need to share these gifts with others. Always, this will mean saying to those who are hurting, “Go to Him,” in prayer, confession, and in the Mass. But often it will also mean that I must say to others, “Come to me.” As baptized members of the Body of Christ, the Church, we have been made “other Christs” in the world, His representatives. Receiving Christ’s Body and Blood at Holy Mass strengthens this identity within us.
Each of us makes Jesus present to others, and we need to take that mission most seriously when we see someone in crisis, burdened to the point of physical, mental, or spiritual exhaustion. May we never fail to turn to Him in our sorrows, and may we never tire of bringing others to Him Whose yoke is easy and Whose burden is light.
Fr. Charles Fox is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit currently assigned to the theology faculty of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He is also a weekend associate pastor at St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township and chaplain and a board member of St. Paul Evangelization Institute, headquartered in Warren.