Have you ever felt like screaming, “Enough, Lord, I can’t take it anymore?” or “I’m so tired, so weary, so overburdened?” or “It’s not fair! It’s unjust! or What have I done to deserve this?”
When everything is going smoothly, we tend to forget God. It is often when things are falling apart in our lives that we acknowledge we need help and hear Jesus extend the gracious invitation we find in today’s Gospel: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.”
Do we believe these words of Jesus down deep in our hearts? Do we believe that if we come to Jesus, believing in him and his love for us, we will find rest? His invitation goes even further: “Take my yoke upon you,” he says, “and learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart…for my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
Jesus spoke these words in Palestine some 2000 years ago when people were suffering under the yoke of the religious laws too numerous to remember, impossible to observe and too heavy to bear. This may not be our burden today, but the burdens we carry are just as real, just as heavy as they were for the men and women of Jesus’ time in Palestine. Jesus, who loves us is saying to us today “Come to me, all of you, who are heavy burdened” as he did to his people long ago. Note that Jesus says ALL. He excludes none from his care and his love.
Pope Francis is constantly reminding us that all come under the mantle of his mercy. Jesus is aware of our burdens and does not deny the struggle; he calls it a yoke. He says, “Take up my yoke.” It is Jesus’ yoke and he means to carry it with us. We are never alone.
Jesus was a carpenter, remember? He surely knew something about yokes. Many of us, urban dwellers, may never have seen or touched a yoke. Jesus knew that yokes had to fit. Jesus is not saying that our yoke will be comfortable although the yokes Jesus makes are tailored for us. “Take my yoke.” he says, “I have fashioned it out of love for you. Accept it; I am with you, I am near you. If you do, “you will find rest for yourselves.”
During my many years in China, I saw many people who bore heavy yokes, who were heavily burdened. Often as I traveled within the country, usually on errands of mercy, I encountered young priests and marveled: What enables these young men in China to travel over unpaved roads to outlying mountain areas on broken down motorcycles to bring the Gospel message and the Sacraments to the people?
I remember with affection Bishop John Liu, 92, released from prison after 25 years and ordered by the government to reestablish his diocese with no church, money, or priests. His smile revealed a young heart, an open mind and enviable energy. What enabled the young and elderly Sisters whom I met throughout the country to labor so cheerfully beyond their strength working for the sick in poorly equipped clinics and caring for handicapped children in overcrowded orphanages?
I often thought, these are the little ones for whom Jesus praises God in today’s Gospel. They are among those “privileged to know things hidden from the learned and the wise.” Meek and humble of heart, vulnerable like children, dependent on God, they have embraced the yoke Jesus has fashioned for them because they believe it is also Jesus’ yoke they bear; they do not carry it alone.
Jesus bears our burdens. In doing so, he is calling us to help others carry theirs. Do we stop now and then to forget our own burdens to consider the heavy burdens millions of people carry daily on our planet? We are promised rest for ourselves, but only if, in imitation of Jesus, we endeavor to lighten the burdens of our brothers and sisters who call to us for help from all corners of the world.