This passage from Matthew’s Gospel opens with some stark reproaches to those who had received so much from God. It reminds us of what Jesus said in another place: “When someone is given a great deal, a great deal will be demanded of that person; when someone is entrusted with a great deal, of that person even more will be expected.” Lk.12:48
Matthew is, very likely, concerned with the lack of enthusiasm for the message by many in his congregation and wants them to beware of lukewarmness and lack of commitment. The Gospel message needs to be taken seriously and much more wholeheartedly especially by those who should know better. Capernaum, after all, was where Jesus had made his headquarters!
Jesus reveals how receiving the message actually works. Revelation comes from the Father, to the Son and then to those who are open to it, and these are not necessarily the most highly educated. Sometimes it might seem that faith is all very complicated when we consider the many controversies, debates, and the numerous books for and against it. It can often be difficult to see the wood for the trees. And yet, fundamentally, it is quite simple. The Lord himself tells us so when he says to the Father: “you have revealed these things to the humble or the simple – i.e. to those able to see and accept the messagewith their hearts.” They are those who have experienced the bruises and burdens of life, ‘those who turn naturally and with a childlike confidence to God’s word. Those who know from experience that Jesus’ ‘yoke’ is not burdensome because they are given the grace to carry it lovingly.
Among the loveliest and most consoling phrases in the whole New Testament must be these words of Jesus which we heard in this Gospel today:
“Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
In the Gospels we see Jesus being true to his promises. So many had heavy burdens lifted from them : the woman at the well in Samaria, the poor widow who lost her only son, Zaccheus, Bartimeus, the lepers, the blind, the lame and the deaf. All those who felt themselves to be on the fringes of society, those crushed in body and spirit. He who said
“I am the Resurrection, and, ‘I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly’ is true to his word, and not only then, 2,000 years ago, but also in our own time.
But we need faith and love, a faith which is not in our heads alone –which would keep God outside of us, a distant aloof figure. But we seek a faith also of the heart which sees God as close and loving, as the Father who looks out for the Prodigal, who forgives, restores and nourishes. A God who says
“Come back to me with all your heart; don’t let fear keep us apart.” (Hos.13) This is a God who has shown himself to us in human flesh, who, ‘in his greatness has let himself become small’ as Pope Benedict puts it. God has taken on a human face in Jesus who said
“He who sees me sees the Father; I and the Father are one.” (Jn.14:9) And then God, in Christ says those amazing words ‘learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart’. How could we fear such a God?
This is an awesome love.
Humility and gentleness are not the most popular attributes in today’s culture. Yet, we know that nothing is so strong as gentleness and nothing so gentle as real strength. It takes a strong self-confident person to be gentle. Gentleness is one of the most necessary, most humanising qualities of life. I for one am grateful for the gentle hands and heart of my mother. And just think of the gentleness required in the hands of a surgeon.
Deep within each heart is a longing for gentleness because we can’t open up and grow without it. Henri Nouwen says this “A gentle person treads lightly, listens carefully, looks tenderly and touches with reverence.”
A gentle person knows that healing and growth result from maturing not forcing. On the other hand the lust for power is rooted in weakness not in strength. Those who need to dominate others feel little self worth.
It is Jesus above all who shows the astounding strength of gentleness. “He opened not his mouth” before the cowards who sought to crush and humiliate him. Yet he it was who had the power to lay down his life and the power to take it up again.
To the gentle and humble Jesus promises peace of soul. Pride and arrogance do not bring peace but rather confusion and unrest get projected onto others through the anger and frustration of such people. Humble people disarm others and bring out the best in them: think of people like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, or Nelson Mandela.
The words of St Seraphim still ring true today ‘Acquire inner peace and a multitude of people will find salvation near you.’
“My yoke is easy and my burden is light” Jesus could say this because he carried it with so much love. Only love can lighten the load. G.K. Chesterton, that great wit said ‘Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.’
If we are deprived of food for a day we can barely last out – at least that’s true for me! But a mother who gives up food for a day so that her children may eat, hardly notices it.
Ofcourse some of the baggage we tend to carry, we could and should let go of.
There is a Zen story about an old man going on a spiritual journey with a heavy bag on his back. On his deathbed he passes on the bag to his disciple. When the disciple opens the bag he finds that it is completely empty. Yet he wonders why it weighed so much.
The old man says,
‘It is the weight of everything in my life that I did not need to carry.’
Our religion is not meant to be a burden. The only command Jesus gives us is that of loving one another and bearing one another’s burdens.
While faith makes all things possible, it is love that makes all things easy. Let us remember always those words of St. John:
“My little ones, I am writing this to keep you from sin. But if anyone should sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one” (1 Jn2:1).
“No matter what our hearts may charge us with – God is greater than our hearts and all is known to him – who is life eternal.” (ibid.,3:20)
Sr. Nora Coughlan, Assistant Chaplain at the Roman Catholic Chaplaincy
15th October 2006