Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. The last part of today’s Gospel contains some of the most beautiful words spoken by Jesus in the New Testament. With them, the Lord reveals his true nature as God and human in a way that reminds us why he attracts us, why we believe in him and why we love him. The passage contains three invitations to us that I try to explore here. Each are rich in love, compassion and concern for all humanity.
The first is: ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest’. With these beautiful words, Jesus tells us ‘no matter how bad things get, no matter how much you have sinned, I will always be here for you, waiting to welcome you and accept you. I am the God to whom you can always turn’. The Lord makes a special appeal to those who are overburdened, stressed, tired and maybe feel overwhelmed trying to keep everything going – the mortgage, the family, the children, the bills, the chores, the job (or not being able to find one). We think here too of the homeless living in hotel rooms and hostels or refugees living in tents, how tired and fed-up they must feel. Included in the overburdened are certainly those of us who try to satisfy or thirst for God with something other than God and when we fall into addiction. In trying to chase after the happiness we seek, we become exhausted. But when we do, his gentle voice still whispers ‘Come to me and you will find rest’.
The second invitation is to ‘shoulder my yoke… it is easy, and my burden is light’. Here we notice that Jesus does not promise us a life free from challenges or discipline. What he does say is that when we follow him, we will have a burden to bear and a cross to carry. But because it is ‘his yoke’ he promises that he will be there to carry it with us and for us and therefore it will appear light compared to worse oppressions that may burden us if we were to walk alone.
The third invitation is to ‘learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls’. To learn is to live and to learn much is to live well. We are never done learning and in Christ we have the Master teacher. Let us ask him to teach us. He says he is gentle. Blessed are the gentle for they shall inherit the earth. To be gentle does not mean to be a walkover. Gentleness is not a form of weakness. It is as form of strength. Think of the gentleness required in the hands of a mother with her baby or a surgeon with a patient. Think of how gentle the Lord is with us, even when we deserve or think we deserve to be punished. He is also humble in heart. In today’s competitive world we are told to impose ourselves if we want to get on. But like gentleness, humility is not a sign of weakness but of strength. It is the mother of all the virtues and is the ability to give up our pride and still retain our dignity. It makes us see our need for God like our need for the air we breathe.
A final point to conclude. The more often we come to Jesus in prayer like he asks, the more we come to know him. The more we come to know him, the more become like him. And the more we become like him, the more others will find those qualities in us – rest, company, a person to share the burden, a person to learn from, a humble soul and a gentle heart. May we find these gifts in Christ again today and may others find them in us who believe in him.