Matthew 11:25-30, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Come to me, all you labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” That sounds wonderful. Isn’t this good news for all of us because who among us is not burdened with problems?
But Jesus is not finished. He continues, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” Ouch, there is still a yoke to carry. How can Jesus say that his yoke is easy and his burden is light?
Have you ever wondered why Jesus uses the image of the yoke? At least two oxen are hitched together by a yoke side by side. Oxen are called “beasts of burden.” So why does he call his yoke easy, his burden light?
Because he humbly yokes himself to us. Simon of Cyrene helped carry his cross; he helps carry ours. And he bears most of the weight, if we let him. That’s why his yoke is easy. And he gives us, as we heard in the second reading, his Spirit within to give us the inner strength to bear our share of the burden, which is, of course, the far lesser share to begin with.
Easy yoke, light burden. You may reply that it sure doesn’t feel that way most of the time.
And we should learn from him to meek and humble! Again, that contradicts all trends in modern society where one has to strong and stand up for one’s opinion, where the proud and self-confident make it big in the world.
So, how should we take these disturbing words of Jesus, understand and practice them?
Let’s start searching for an answer by looking first at the First Reading. It reminds us that while many things in a believer’s life remain the same whether they are believers or not, the believer also lives those things differently: in meekness and humility of heart. It is a prophecy of the Messiah, who does not come charging in on a huge warhorse; he comes on a lowly beast of burden, a simple donkey.
The Messiah-king is just, but meek. That doesn’t seem enough to do the job. How is he going to banish chariots and archers and establish peace among the nations with so little?
The Lord promises this king will not just serve national interests: he will proclaim peace to the nations and reign over them all. He is not ambitious, but selfless and simple. He has a big job to do, and he doesn’t tackle it making a lot of noise or mustering a huge army.
We know who this Messiah is and how he brought peace; with his meekness, justice, and desire for peace disarmed the world of his time and took it by storm.
In today’s Second Reading St Paul gives us an insight into how the Messiah, and his disciples, conquered the world: by turning from the flesh and living the life of the Spirit. The Spirit of the Lord spread and conquered hearts, just as it does today.
However, we always face the danger of backsliding, and some don’t live according to the Spirit of God at all, despite the fact that they’ve received the Spirit through faith in Christ and Baptism. It’s the Spirit that teaches us the true cause of suffering and problems and provides the solution: the desires of the flesh must be conquered. Wars and discord in our world stem from those who strive after the things of the flesh, desires that make them greedy, selfish, and cruel.
The true war, at times unseen, is between the flesh and the Spirit. It is still waged by Christians, with victories and defeats, but always with their hope firmly placed in the Lord, who definitively overthrew the things of the flesh.
And then, in the Gospel Jesus teaches us that there are things in life to which we’ll be blind if we are not “little” in our aspirations and taught by him how to be meek and humble of heart.
Creation was made with the Son in mind, so it is no wonder that the Father would make his Son the key to understanding life’s meaning and purpose. The Son encourages us to learn from him to be meek and humble of heart. Without this knowledge, life is much more burdensome than it was meant to be. That’s why in today’s Gospel he assures us that it is not as tough as it seems, and will give us rest from our struggles.
If the Spirit of Christ is part of creation, the more we imitate him and try to make his Spirit guide our lives, the easier everything will be because through peace with Christ we will also achieve peace with ourselves and with his creation.
Every Palm Sunday we celebrate the fulfillment of the prophecy in today’s First Reading. As Jesus’ disciples lay palms before him, and he rides on his humble donkey into Jerusalem, they don’t yet understand that he will reign in a different way: from the Cross, humiliated and seemingly broken.
For many, the moment of his Passion and death was too much for them. He had been teaching them and trying to prepare them, but it was not enough.
It was only in the light of his Resurrection that things came into focus and they realized a different Spirit had been at play all along.
The most common misconception about meekness is that it is synonymous with weakness. Did Jesus seem weak to you? Meekness requires a concerted effort of various virtues. It requires self-mastery which forestalls and checks impulses of anger, so it is related to temperance. It requires tolerance of the failings of others, so it requires patience and fortitude. It calls for forgiveness of injuries and benevolence towards all, so it comes from charity No, meekness is not weakness. If you are still not convinced, try being a little meeker this week and see how much effort it requires.
And in case the yoke still seems heavy, it could be that we are not allowing the Lord to carry the weight. Or because we are not keeping his pace. We could be dragging our heels or racing ahead of him. Either way, we are chafing and straining. Perhaps we need just to quiet down for a few moments in the green pasture of prayer to attune our ears once again to the voice of the Master. The solution is easy: Let go and let God and the burden become light.