We get a window into one of the great human moments of Jesus’ life when He 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” (Matthew 11:25). 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: the Son of God 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.
Jesus’ 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 Jesus describe the faithlessness of so many of the people to whom He had tried to preach the Kingdom of God. And just after today’s text, the Pharisees will criticize Jesus’ disciples and challenge Jesus Himself, the conspiracy to put Jesus to death will begin, and they will even accuse Him of acting by the power of the devil.
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 Jesus’ joy, and the deep sense of fulfillment He has at seeing the faith of those He describes as the “little ones.”
Then Jesus 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, 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 suspect that every single one of us, at one point or another, has found life burdensome. Maybe that’s 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 don’t 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.
There is a great scene in the movie 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” 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 bannister, and the knob at the top comes off in his hand. George, seething with emotion, looks at the knob as if it were Satan himself, and it seems to take all of his strength to put it back into place.
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.”
We might not have ever fallen as deep into despair as George Bailey, but all of us know what it's like to feel like we’re at the end of our ropes. 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 might 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 not a farmer, but I’m 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 they say, 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 doesn’t 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. Every time we receive Holy Communion at Mass, Christ 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.