July 5, 2023 at 9:17 a.m.
Burdens are burdens, but they can be lightened
Let us pray that we will be that yoke of Jesus for others; that is helping others to carry their burden.
WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.
As we continue our yearlong voyage through St. Matthew’s Gospel, the readings this weekend shift from a focus on discipleship to that of how Jesus journeys with us as we try to be his missionary disciples. A couple of points help us to place the Gospel passage in a broader context. First, the beginning part of the Gospel is actually a classic prayer of blessing. Such prayers were common in the time of Jesus and his listeners would have recognized this form of prayer right away. The prayer starts with giving thanks to God and then gives the reason for such thanksgiving (how God reveals himself to those who are open and humble). The prayer concludes with a petition.
Secondly, this Gospel passage also occurs in our Lectionary (the Book of Readings we use at Mass) on two other important feast days: The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and All Souls Day. This is also significant for our reflection this weekend. The Gospel passage speaks movingly of how Jesus, out of his immense love for us, invites us to come to him with our burdens and difficulties. He will help us to carry them and to find an inner rest and peace, despite these burdens. All this is echoed in our First Reading and the psalm. The prophet Zechariah sings of the joy that the coming of the king brings, as he comes to give justice and peace to a troubled nation. The psalm sings of God’s love and mercy that lifts up especially those who are bowed down.
For many years though, I puzzled about our Lord’s words regarding taking on his yoke. If you are burdened, how can taking on a yoke help? Surely it would be an even heavier weight to carry. Then Jesus goes on to say that this extra yoke is easy and the burden is light! What on earth does Jesus mean? I then read a commentary on Jesus’ words that began with a lesson in first-century agriculture. The yoke was fitted to an ox, or other beast, that would be plowing a field, or going around in a circle at a mill. The yoke though was custom made for each animal. The aim was that it fitted perfectly to spread the load and strain. Furthermore, it was the usual custom to have two animals working together, so that the burden was shared and, in the case of plowing, that each animal guided the other in the right direction. This was especially important in the hard and stony ground of the Holy Land.
Now our Lord’s words made perfect sense! Jesus’ yoke is custom made for us, to help ease and spread whatever load we are carrying. The burdens will not be taken away, but they will be eased. He also walks with us, often by sending others to help carry the burden and to guide and direct us in the right way. How often have we found ourselves saying, perhaps after some very tough time, “if it were not for my faith …” Perhaps too we have been fortunate to have a person to help us and to guide us as we struggle. These are examples of the Lord’s sweet yoke and why Jesus says: “… for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
As disciples, we should be aware that there is more to draw out from our Gospel. First, let us pray that we will not be a burden to others. Here we are not thinking about the burdens that we may feel old age or sickness can bring. Rather, let us avoid being a burden to others through our selfishness, or unkindness, or our lack of consideration. More positively, let us pray that we will be that yoke of Jesus for others; that is helping others to carry their burden. So many people are burdened by hardship, sickness, guilt, failure, grief or responsibilities. How can we help them to carry these heavy weights?
One last thought or reflection. Like the animals yoked together, how can we help and guide others, keeping them on the right path and working together to carry a burden or to overcome a problem? This is particularly important in parishes and in our community. Imagine a heavy obstacle blocking a road that needs to be moved by four people. If each person pulls in a different direction, nothing will happen. If everyone pulls together in one direction, then the obstacle can be removed and the journey forward can continue. Yes, collaboration means exactly that: work together and not against each other!