Psalm 145.1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14 Resp. 1
Romans 8.9, 11-13
If we are ever lost in reverie, looking up at the sky and thinking how nice it would be to live on a cloud, after a few seconds, perhaps even a minute, we look back at the earth at forget about clouds. Listening to the Gospels should not be like cloud appreciation. We should not hear the words of Jesus and think, “isn’t that such a nice idea”, and then go back to our daily drudgery. Jesus is making us an offer. He is making you an offer. He wants to make your life easier. Jesus says to you, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Are you tired? Are you exhausted with life? Jesus tells us, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.” This is not a scam. He is not making up fluffy, useless religious sayings. This is real advice, for our benefit, which we ought to take seriously.
Our Lord is meek and humble of heart, and he wants us to learn from him because he sees that we labor and are burdened and we wants to give us rest. Although the labor and burdens of our daily work might be what first comes to our mind, it does not seem that Jesus is offering us rest from those. If he were, his solution seems insufficient. How could it help us to be meek and humble of heart? The meek and humble do not often have less work in this world; indeed they often have more, and more difficult, work.
If Jesus is not promising us rest from our work, he must be referring to other labor and burdens. If we learned to have a heart like Jesus, meek and humble, even though we would still have work to do each day, our load would lightened. The opposite of humility is pride. Pride must be the burden which Jesus is offering us relief from.
The suggestion that pride is weighing us down might offend us at first. A person might not think that they have so much pride, or perhaps they know someone with a great deal of pride who does not seem to be burdened. We should not worry though, for the moment, about other people and their pride. Let us just consider how pride has been burdening us.
Do you spend time worrying about what other people think of you? Are you worried that you have not accomplished enough in this life? Are you upset because someone else has taken credit for your ideas and your work? Do you lie awake at night thinking about how angry you are with someone you cannot forgive? Does it concern you that people misjudge you and misunderstand you? Do you feel like you deserve more material possessions in this life, at least as much as so-and-so has? Are you afraid that you are losing the rat race?
Those are a lot of burdens! Those, and many burdens like them, are the real burdens. If we could be rid of them, life would be much more bearable, no matter what labors we have in this world. “But wait,” you are perhaps saying to yourself, “you do not understand. I have a real grievance with the world. I have been treated unfairly. I have not been given what I deserve.” I do understand though. I do not doubt that every single person here has been treated unfairly and some people have been seriously misused, but I am not the one recommending humility and meekness; Jesus is, and he is the most abused person in the history of the world. Who has been treated as unfairly as he has?
He says that we should learn from him, that we should take his yoke upon us and learn from him. To teach a young ox how to plow, a farmer would yoke it up with an experienced ox. The experienced ox would know what to do and the young ox would be forced to come along and learn. Jesus offers us his credentials, “I am meek and humble of heart.” We need to let Jesus drag us around while we learn from him; we need to do whatever we see him doing.
What did Jesus do when the Samaritans would not let him walk through their town? He walked around. What did Jesus do when the Pharisees and Sadducees tried to trick him with questions? He answered them and taught them. What did Jesus do when they crowned him with thorns and spit on him? He picked up his Cross and carried it to where he would die. What did Jesus do in the end, after all the abuse and torture and completely unfair treatment? He asked the Father to forgive them since they did not know what they were doing.
Does this mean that we should allow others to treat us badly without complaining? Yes. This is just another reason why a religious vocation is better than a secular vocation: those who have vowed poverty, chastity, and obedience are free to lay down all the burdens of pride. Someone like Blessed Mother Teresa can find rest in the midst of exhausting work, terrible living conditions, and cruel accusations. Someone like St. Martin de Porres can go through life being treated like less than a human being.
St. Francis once said the following about perfect joy: “When we come to the monastery, soaked by the rain and frozen by the cold, all soiled with mud and suffering from hunger, and we ring at the gate of the place and the brother porter comes and says angrily: ‘Who are you?’ And we say: ‘We are two of your brothers.’ And he contradicts us, saying: ‘You are not telling the truth. Rather you are two rascals who go around deceiving people and stealing what they give to the poor. Go away’ And he does not open for us, but makes us stand outside in the snow and rain, cold and hungry, until night falls-then if we endure all those insults and cruel rebuffs patiently, without being troubled and without complaining, and if we reflect humbly and charitably that that porter really knows us and that God makes him speak against us, oh, Brother Leo, write that perfect joy is there!”
We who live in the world cannot experience this perfect joy always, the rest that Jesus offers. The world and the people of this world will try to take every advantage of us possible. We who live in the world will have to keep some burdens, so that society can continue to function. We will have to, at times, fight for our rights and the rights of others, but this responsibility should not prevent us from finding rest where we can by being humble and meek: letting others mistreat us, letting others take more than their share, working hard in this world without credit, forgiving those who do not even know that they wronged us.
Will we only hear the Gospel today or will we actually do what Jesus says?