Those who go to Mass to find some consolation in the proclamation of the Word of God will find today’s Gospel (Mt. 11:25-30) a treasure.
Jesus says: “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 is light” (Mt. 11:28-30).
Many will feel themselves directly addressed in “you who labor and are burdened.” This refers immediately to those who go to the edges to make ends meet. They work long hours thinking of their smiling, joy-loving and hungry children, and of their spouses who hope so fervently in their being able to “bring home the bacon.” They work – and at the end of the month battle the ferocious bills that never yield. This is the lot of the poor, but also of the rich, whose needs only increase with every satisfaction of need. It refers to businessmen who must hustle – in and out of the box – to draw in the profits that secure their livelihood and their lifestyle, but never seem to satisfy their investors. It refers to journalists who risk their lives to get the to the truth of recent developments, and whose paycheck falls short even being able to send their children to good schools. It refers even to nuns who must not only teach class, correct papers, counsel students, administer departments, deal with officious mothers superior, wash clothes, go marketing, cook meals, but still have enough time for devotion at prayer. All these – and more – Jesus addresses in: “you who labor.”
He also addresses “you who are burdened.” These are burdened not just by the infinity of things they must attend to, but by the many little compromises they have made in their lives that eat away at their self-respect and even at their integrity. Some of the compromises – “just to make ends meet,” or “just to save face,” or “just to be able to have enough to belong – with just a wee bit more flare than others” have not been little, nor accidental. They have been deliberate and calculated, occasioned by the character flaw that is now long familiar, but decided through nevertheless fairly pre-mediated acts of freedom. Of course, these are burdens that are not paraded in public, nor even talked about in private. They are burdens that weigh us down in their denial. But they are there. Those who bear them Jesus addresses in: “you who are burdened.”
To the worked and overworked, to the burdened and nearly overwhelmed, Jesus says: “Come to me.” It is not a command. Who commands anyone in this rat race of competition, compromise and moral decay? It is an invitation. “I will give you rest,” he offers. Come, you whose work and burdens have overstressed you, estranged you, and robbed you of life. “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full” (Cf. John 10:10).
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt. 11:29). Jesus’ yoke is his Father’s will. It was not an easy yoke, but a yoke Jesus embraced in meekness, humility and love, which led him to his passion and death. It was a mission he undertook for each of us, in love for his Father and love for us all. This is why “God exalted him, and gave him a name which is above every name” (Phil 2:9).
Perhaps, it is in this invitation that people who are overworked and burdened can finally encounter Jesus. Perhaps in this encounter, God, forgotten in one’s overwork or denied in one’s moral compromise, can be rediscovered turning to us in love. Perhaps, having experienced that, we can love in return. It is not an experience that can be forced, managed, manufactured or manipulated. It is never something that can come out of the barrel of a gun, or as the result of a theological argument. It is, as the invitation itself, pure gift, pure grace, like rain on a parched summer day. But for those who insist on the practical things in life, on what is really relevant, on what really makes one tick, consider the words of the former Jesuit General, Pedro Arrupe:
“Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
In this manner, the yoke we are asked to bear for Jesus becomes light.
That was the case for Father Arrupe, even when towards the end of his life he had to relinquish leadership of the Society of Jesus and relinquish control even of his own body due to illness. Then, he said:
“More than ever I find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have wanted all my life from my youth. But now there is a difference; the initiative is entirely with God. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in God’s hands.”
Arrupe accepted Jesus’ invitation: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest…”
The invitation stands.