14 Ordinary Time
Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time: On Yokes and Burdens
Today's Gospel tells us about the Heart of Jesus. It gives us these words of comfort: "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."
What do these words tell us about the Lord? What do they mean for us?
They tell us something about the image of God that is very different from the images of God we might have. Many of our images are of the Almighty Awesome Creator of the Universe. We think of the great frescos on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel as Michelangelo portrayed God creating the universe with a dazzling display of power. We think of the image of creation of Adam, and God's powerful hand touching the limp finger of the first man, giving him life. Or we think of some of the wonders of nature we may have experienced: the summits of the Rocky Mountains, the great canyons of Arizona, or the fire red skies of a Tampa Bay Sunset. And we remember that God is the Awesome Creator.
But He is more than this.
We also have images of Jesus the Son of God as the Judge of the living and dead. He is the One we will have to come before and present the work of our lives, not just the individual things we have done, but how well we have allowed His love to permeate the world. There is reward or punishment waiting, there is mercy and compassion, and there is justice. Again, going back to the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo depicts the scene of the Last Judgment showing the joy of the saved and the grief of the condemned. Jesus is the Just and Merciful Judge.
But He is more than this.
Jesus is meek and humble of heart. The prophet Zechariah prophesied that this is how our King would come to us. This was in today's first reading from Zechariah 9:9. And this is how Jesus presents himself in the Gospel, meek and humble of heart.
What does it mean to be meek? To be meek is to be patient and gentle. This is not the surrender of rights or some form of cowardice, but the opposite of sudden anger, of malice and of long harbored vengeance. Jesus is meek. He is not waiting for the right time to strike us down for what we have done to Him, how we have attacked His Holiness with our sins, how we have attacked those whom He loves, or how we have attempted to thrust Him out of our lives. He is gentle. He is patient with us. Many of the parents of Teenagers are meek in just this way. They are patient with their Teens and not concerned with what their children have said to them or even done to them.
We can see this Divine Meekness in one of the fiercest books of the Bible, The Book of Revelation. Chapter 6 of the Book of Revelations presents the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. This is in the section of the seven seals. A white horse comes forward and its rider is given a crown and called on to continue the victory of the Lord. A red horse is summoned, and its rider told to let people slaughter each other in their continual and unending wars. Then the Black Horse comes and its rider has a scale as people are afflicted with famine, and finally a sickly green colored horse comes. Its rider is Death. When the fifth seal is opened, prayers are heard from under God's altar. There, under the altar, are the souls of all those who have been slaughtered for giving witness to the Lord. These are the martyrs. Peter and Paul are there. St. Ignatius of Antioch and all those thrown to the lions and killed by the Romans are there. Twelve-year-old Agnes is there as are the new mothers, Perpetua and Felicity. So also are all those throughout history who have died giving witness for Christ. The sixteen Carmelite nuns of Compiegne are there. They were beheaded during the French Reign of Terror, singing Veni Creator Spiritus as they were murdered youngest to oldest before a hushed crowd. The North American martyrs are there, St. Isaac Jogues, St. John DeBrebeuf and their companions. Those who have been killed for being Christians by radical Moslems are there. The 58 martyrs of Baghdad murdered on October 31, 2010 are there adding their voices to the thousands and thousands before them calling out, as the Book of Revelations says: "How long will it be, holy and true Master, before you sit in judgment and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth." It is right here that we find Divine Meekness, "Be patient," the Lord says, "Be patient for a little while longer, More will be added to your number." More will have the chance to choose the Lord.
When we say the Lord is meek, we do not mean that He is submissive. We mean that He is so full of love that He is willing to be patient. Perhaps some of the murderers will have the opportunity to join the eternal family of the martyrs they created and themselves give witness to Christ.
Jesus is humble of heart. A proud person sees the universe revolving around him or her. If there is an offense, the proud person refuses to forgive. "Who does he think that he is?" the proud person asks. He or she is not concerned with returning the sinner to love. His or her only concern is with vengeance. That is not the way of the Lord. Jesus is humble of heart. His concern is not with how He has been offended. His concern is with the sinner and returning him or her to love. This is the mercy of God streaming from Jesus' heart.
What does all this mean to us? It means that we need to give Jesus our burdens. This is more than the difficulties of life, sickness, marriage or family problems, etc. Yes, we give these to the Lord, but there is more than this that He wants. He wants us to give Him all that is keeping us from Him. Perhaps there are sinful hidden closets in our lives. We are ashamed. Perhaps there is some form of substance abuse. Perhaps there is some form of sexual immorality. Perhaps we have difficulty forgiving those who have hurt us. Maybe we have committed serious sins. We had an abortion or we convinced another to have an abortion. Often we are afraid that God is never going to forgive us. We have attacked Him, willingly and knowingly. How can we seek forgiveness? So, we think that we are condemned to go through life carrying these burdens only to wait for everlasting punishment after we die.
"No," the Lord says, "Give me your burdens, come to me for I am meek and humble of heart." He is saying, "I am not so offended that I am shutting off mercy and compassion. I am not concerned about myself. I am concerned about you. I suffered on the cross for you. Give me your burdens. I want them, no matter how ugly, how messy they may be."
And then the Lord says, "And you will find rest for yourselves, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light." The burden of being a Christian is light next to the burden of carrying our sins to the grave and beyond. Following the way of holiness, being separate from what others consider everyday life, is a lighter burden than carrying the weight of guilt that results from choosing to be part of the crowd that exalts in its immorality. Holiness is being different from the immoral crowd. Holiness is accepting the way of the Lord.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI told young people: "The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness." Every one of us was created for greatness. To achieve this greatness means that there are times that we have to reject the comfort of the world. There are times that we have to be uncomfortable. We are mocked for our faith and our morality. We are mocked for our refusing to live for ourselves. We are mocked because we know that marriage is sacred and live that way. We are mocked because we know that we have to avoid certain associates, certain places, certain parties, etc because we know that they can destroy us. We are mocked because we are not part of the crowd. This is not comfortable. But we were not created for comfort. We were not created to be part of the crowd. We were created for greatness. That is the burden, that is the yoke, that Jesus calls us to accept in today's Gospel.
But is that burden, the burden of living moral lives, really so difficult? Not when it is compared to the burden of carrying sin. It is so much easier to carry the burden of the Lord. The burden the Lord puts on us brings us joy. It brings us peace with ourselves in this life and total union with Him in the next life.
It is easy for us to sin. It is difficult to live with our sins. It can be a challenge to avoid sin, even a burden. But it is a joy to live free of sin. It is a joy to join those who sing with their lives, "All is well, all is well with my soul."
"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."