Fr. Charles Irvin
Zechariah 9:9-10; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30
Most of the people I know are carrying burdens. They’re trying to stretch out paychecks that never seem to go quite far enough. They are working on marriage relationships they fear are breaking up. They’re unemployed or they’re under-employed and are looking for a better job that will give them a reliable and adequate source of income. And these days we are all carrying the burden of ever-increasing energy costs and the inflationary rise they cause in the cost of everything else.
Others are waiting for a biopsy report on certain abnormal cells that are growing in their body, filled with fear that they may have cancer. Or they’re trying to provide for and shape the characters of their children, children that are so influenced by all that is wrong in our culture. Many parents feel they are taken for granted, not appreciated, and that they are simply being used while getting nothing back out of life for what they’ve put into it.
All of us are laboring under burdens. In addition to the few things I’ve just mentioned, many folks have piled on to themselves burdens of self-doubt, self-blame, shame, and guilt. Then they say to themselves: “Somehow, all of this is my fault.” “If I were a better wife my husband would notice me more and be more sensitive, considerate and loving toward me.” “If I tried harder, I would have a better job or position where I work, and we wouldn’t be so strapped for money.” “If I were more loving, my teenagers wouldn’t be so hostile.” And on and on it goes, with those put-me-down tapes constantly playing in our minds.
Let’s be truthful, we are all of us, each and every one of us, laboring under burdens. Coming here today to Mass we’ve just heard Jesus say to us: “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will give you rest.” How could anyone not be attracted to what Jesus offers us? Why is He so ignored by so many who are not here?
For some, the Christian message has been so distorted that they no longer take it seriously. Some preachers have claimed that faith in Christ removes all desire for sin. Rubbish! Others have preached a message that faith in Jesus Christ removes all doubt and fear in one’s life. Nonsense! Still others tell us that with Christ you’ll have such a feeling of acceptance that you’ll never ever feel lonely again. Not true! And, we’ve been told that if you believe in Jesus Christ your children will grow up good, you’ll get promotions where you work, and your illnesses and sicknesses will be minor. Bunk!
The Christian faith is not magic. Christ’s life was not painless and totally free of burdens. Quite the contrary! But what He does offer you is His invitation to be yoked with Him, to pull your tasks through life with Him, sharing His yoke, drawing on His strength, and letting Him help you while you help Him accomplish His tasks. Christ doesn’t do things for you; He does things with you.
The Jews among whom Jesus lived were suffering a lot. Life imposed heavy and painful burdens upon them. And their religious leaders imposed even more, presenting them with an impossible set of laws, rules and regulations that could never be met while at the same time presenting them with an angry and vengeful God who could seemingly never be satisfied. Jesus, a Jew, had burdens, many burdens. But His religion was never a burden. It was a support; it carried Him; His relationship with His Father empowered Him, filling Him with God’s Holy Spirit. He knew that His Father was a gentle, caring, and generous Father who loved with a love infinitely greater than any human love.
I don’t know what your image of God is, and I don’t know how you feel about God, but I do know that you need to be yoked with Jesus in accomplishing God’s work and in carrying out His tasks. If you give up your tyrannical deity, Jesus will give you His wise and loving Father along with His strong and understanding mother.
For those of us who are weighed down with shame and quilt, well… few of us have heavier loads to carry. Jesus’ mission in life was a mission of forgiveness. Are you yoked with Christ in that task? Christ never met anyone whose sins were so great that they couldn’t be forgiven. The only thing Jesus could not forgive was an unforgiving spirit.
It is often said that Jesus’ love for us was unconditional. Well, yes…. but not quite. He did attach one supreme condition on His love for us, namely that in order to receive His forgiveness and be relieved of our burden we have to forgive others. We receive forgiveness and we have burdens taken off of our backs as we forgive and remove burdens from others. Carrying unforgiving resentments burdens you, not the ones you resent.
No one has a heavier load to carry than those who are constantly resentful and constantly concerned about themselves. Resentfulness is, after all, a form of self-centeredness. And Jesus, as you will recall, spent no time at all with such things. Jesus was far too concerned with helping others than He was with fretting about His own problems. He didn’t waste time with His own self-pity parties.
If we take Christ’s yoke upon ourselves we’ll find our own load to be much lighter. For all of us are carrying some heavy loads, the worst of which are our feelings about our selves and about our relationships with others, particularly those who are closest around us. And life is, after all, essentially hard, because relationships are hard.
But Jesus offers you here something that can make life essentially beautiful for you and for me. “Come to me,” He cries, “all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart. And your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Everything depends upon how closely you will let Jesus come to you.