I can’t think of a more suitable text to ponder while in retreat than these words of Jesus drawn from the Gospel of Matthew. A retreat is a chance to step back from our normal routines and responsibilities, to surrender our burdens and cares to God, and to receive once again God’s healing and life-giving love. //
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine yourself coming into the presence of Jesus, who is so gentle and so humble. Imagine him extending his arms to you, welcoming you into his embrace. Hear him say to you, “Come to me; I want to give you rest…. I see what a heavy burden you’ve been bearing and how weary you are from carrying this load. Let me take it from you. Come apart for a while, and rest.” //
How many times have I heard this passage from the gospel, sighed and thought, you’re right, Jesus. I just need a nap. I just need to recharge my batteries and I’ll be set. But that recharge inevitably diminishes and I’m back to weary. What’s really needed is a power adaptor, a way to plug into the source of power directly.
A friend of mine keeps string cheese and granola bars in her purse at all times because she gets hangry. She knows that if she gets to a certain point, her energy will fail and that combination of hunger and anger will drop her into worse than a catatonic state. It can become a frantic cry for relief like a young child having a meltdown at the park.
Jesus’ invitation is not simply to cease activity but he says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” In part, Jesus is sharing our burden, yoked together with us. And he is teaching us how to bear the load because there is the work of love to be done.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
We may expect Jesus to say: Stop. Breathe. Come away by yourselves.[i] Yet in this passage, Jesus says: “I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you.”
The yoke is an object of work, keeping two animals together to share strength. Jesus is saying: Work with me. Learn from me. Restoration comes from working my way.[ii] This way, this rhythm of life, will bring you more fully to life.
Jesus’ way, his personal pattern, includes private prayer and ceasing with Sabbath rest. Jesus’ way is also in his teaching.
There is within us all a very sacred place, a gift of stillness, light, and love central to our being. We could call it our heart or soul or the indwelling of Christ. It’s at once a point of utter nothingness, while also giving birth to all things in heaven and on earth. It’s a place capable of holding with infinite gentleness both incredible beauty and terrible pain. Against all reason, it’s the place God chooses to call home, and so it’s our home, too. It’s the place where Christ is born, and from where we share Christ’s love and compassion in the world. It’s God’s eternal Kingdom within us, our common inheritance as children of Light.
Very often, though, it seems so difficult to even visit this place, let alone claim our inheritance. We live our lives as if in a dream, where we’re separate from God and from all there is, and often we don’t even realize we’re dreaming. But then something happens, we start feeling restless, a part us senses our perpetual slumber, and we desire something more: to awaken to God’s Loving Presence, and dwell in that sacred place. And our Beloved God is encouraging us all the time, tirelessly offering this generous gift. Unfortunately, we tend to slumber deeply, but there is a way of being more receptive to this gift, and it’s truly very, very simple.
There is a kind of gentleness that is intuitive to us, or is called forth naturally from us, in certain situations. You may recall the first time you held a baby: the way your body responded to one tinier and less durable than yours with a gentle, protecting strength. Or the first time you threaded a kneedle, or placed something under a microscope, or gave someone a kiss. I remember my first childhood pet, a chameleon with skin that changed colors and eyes that swiveled in all directions. Though I gave him the rather ungentle name Thunder, I knew instinctively how gentle I needed to be as his tiny toes and delicate tail gripped my outstretched fingers. Although my heart raced, my breath became slower, my attention focused, and my senses became attuned,for the first time, to the fragile life of another.
I wonder how many billions of people have been comforted by these “Comfortable Words”, as they have sometimes been called. And I wonder if it’s this very passage that St. Augustine had in mind when he said that our hearts are restless until they rest in God.
There is a sense in which Christ not only offers us rest, but is himself that rest, that resting place. We rest in him as the Beloved Disciple reclined in his bosom at the Last Supper. The Beloved Disciple reclines in Christ’s bosom as Christ in turn John is“in (or into) the bosom of the Father”, as it says near the beginning of John [1:18]. Days of retreat are a great time to be that Beloved Disciple at rest.
Here is my sermon from this morning. It took some prayer and meditation before the connection between the “Yoke” of the O.T. Law and the yoke of Jesus’ Law of Love became so clear. I also recalled Peter’s testimony at the Council of Jerusalem in which he referred to the yoke that they had been bearing of the O.T. observances.
The words of Jesus in Today’s Gospel Reading are both a call to prayer and a challenge.
At first thought they seem to be words of encouragement for the poor farmers, herders, and laborers that Jesus encountered during his years of ministry among the rocky hillsides and coastlands around the Sea of Galilee. There is some truth in that image. Many of the people whom Jesus met were poor, and had to work hard to support their families.
But as we consider the words that Jesus used in that invitation and challenge we can begin to see another dimension to what he said.
As Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God, his Father, he encountered opposition from the leaders of the synagogues, and the representatives of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Pharisees and Sadducees questioned by what authority he taught, and the source of his power to heal. Especially he was accused of breaking the Sabbath Laws by healing the sick, the lame and the blind on the Sabbath Day, and of failing to keep other parts of the Jewish Law. He was also accused of blasphemy by calling God his Father.
Just after the words of Jesus, “Come to me…” appear in Matthew’s Gospel we read how Jesus was confronted by some Pharisees for allowing his disciples to eat from the heads of grain plucked as they walked beside the fields on a Sabbath. That was considered as doing work of harvesting; forbidden on the Sabbath.
From this example we can see that the yoke of which Jesus spoke, was the yoke and the heavy burden of Old Testament Law as it was interpreted literally by the officials.
By contrast Jesus offered to those who heard his compassionate invitation the way to the easier yoke and the lighter burden of the Law of Love.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens ….Take
my yoke upon you, and learn from me … and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt. 11:28-29)
We can do our part in giving witness to Jesus’ “New Commandment”,loving our neighbor as ourselves, and respecting the dignity of every human being, by living the Baptismal Covenant of the Church promised by us or for us at our Baptism.
(B.C.P. p.305) Think about this!
Isa. 40:28-31; Mt. 11:28-30
In our first reading we heard Isaiah reminding us that God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, does not faint or grow weary. Going beyond that he gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. (Isa. 40:28-29)
In today’s Gospel we heard the comforting words of Jesus; “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Mt. 11:28) In saying this Jesus was speaking as the Son of God, sharing the gift of power and promising to strengthen the weak and the powerless. Speaking as perfect man Jesus could share with all of us human beings the experience of feeling weariness and of bearing burdens. We can see this very occasionally in the prayers of Jesus and his exasperation when the disciples were slow to understand what he was teaching them. We can see it especially in Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane on the night of his passion. (Mt. 26:39, also Lk. 22:42-44)