July 09, 2023
I am getting ready to move and set up an apartment with the Brothers at the Brothers of Mercy nursing facility on Ransom Road. I am sorting things out and downsizig -- deciding what stuff to save, what to give away and what to throw away. I recall a comment of Saint Pope John XXIII. Dying of cancer, he retained his sense of humor and humility. “My bags are packed,” he said, “and I am ready to go.”
In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus invites his disciples long ago and today, “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.” The future tense need not be taken to imply that refreshment and rest occur only after death or in the distant future. In fact, refreshment and rest are part of following Jesus in the present.
Jesus uses the expression, “take my yoke upon you.” It was an expression used by other Rabbis at the time of Jesus in reference to the Law – the “yoke of the Torah.” A yoke was the wooden harness placed on the neck and shoulder of an ox to pull a plough or heavy load. Each yoke was hand crafted, tailor-made, to fit the ox. Jesus makes it personal, “take my yoke upon you.” Jesus says, “My burden is light.” As another Rabbi had it, “My burden is become my song.”
The yoke of Christ is the mantle of and the mandate to love, even when it means sacrifice, even when it involves suffering. It is not silly or fleeting romantic love without commitment but the day-to-day love of parents for children; the steadfast fidelity of spouses; the singlehearted devotion of caregivers; the constancy of friends who support us even when the news is bad. Love is a burden, but it is a lovely one to bear. Anyone who has loved, in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer, knows that some burdens are a privilege to carry. (Alice Camille in This Transforming Word)
If our love is tied up in the things of this world, we’ll be exhausted carrying an overstuffed suitcase around or finding more storage bins to keep our things. When we accept the invitation of Jesus to come to him, our weariness subsides, and we are given a new lease and zest for life no matter how old we are.
Perhaps you have heard the lyrics of a song by the Hollies inspired by an incident associated with the boys home Boys Town in Nebraska. Around 1918, the orphanage’s founder and director, Father Edward Flanagan, saw a boy, Reuban Granger, carrying another boy, Howard Loomis, up some stairs. The smaller boy had polio and wore leg braces. Fr. Flanagan asked Granger if carrying Loomis was hard. The boy replied, “He ain’t heavy, Father, he’s m’ brother.”
We do not bear and carry burdens alone. In Christ and with love, strength is given, the weight is lifted, and we find rest. As Saints Augustine says in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself O Lord and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
13th Sunday Ordinary A