Zec 9: 9-10; Rom 8: 9, 11-13; Mt 11: 25-30
Anecdote: “Lord, I've done the best I can.” Pope St. John XXIII during the Second Vatican Council days used to submit all his anxieties to God by this prayer every night: “Lord, Jesus, I’m going to bed. It's your Church. Take care of it!” The President Dwight David Eisenhower knew about that inner rest derived from submitting daily lives to God. He had it even while he was the leader of armed forces in World War II. His every decision during that awful conflict had monumental consequences. How did he deal with the pressure? Ike shared with his former pastor, Dean Miller that he didn't try to carry his burden alone. Some nights when the strain became too great, Eisenhower would simply pray, "Lord, with your grace I've done the best I can. You take over until morning." And he understood very well Jesus’ advice in today’s Gospel: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11: 28).
Introduction: During the U. S. Independence Day celebrations on July fourth, you will hear all or part of the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…. Send these, the homeless tempest-tossed to me.” Today’s readings, especially the Gospel, give the same message in a more powerful way: "Take my yoke . . . and you will find rest" (Matthew 11: 29).
Scripture lessons: In the first reading, the prophet Zechariah consoles the Jews living in Palestine under Greek rule promising them a “meek” Messianic King of peace riding on a donkey, who will give them rest and liberty. The responsorial psalm praises and thanks a kind and compassionate God who “raises up those who are bowed down” (Psalm 145: 14), under heavy yokes. In the second reading, Paul tells the first-century Roman Christian community about two yokes, namely, the “flesh” and the “Spirit.” He challenges them to reject the heavy and fatal yoke of the flesh and to accept the light yoke of the Spirit of Jesus. Christian spirituality, according to Paul, proceeds from the initiative of the Holy Spirit and means living in the realm of the “Spirit” as opposed to the “flesh.” In the Gospel, Jesus offers rest to those “who labor and are burdened” (Matthew 11: 29), if they will accept His “easy yoke and light burden” (Matthew 11: 30). By declaring that his “yoke is light,” Jesus means that whatever God sends us is made to fit our needs and our abilities exactly. The second part of Jesus’ claim is: "My burden is light.” Jesus does not mean that the burden is easy to carry but that it is laid on us in love and is meant to be carried in love, and that love makes even the heaviest burden light.
The first reading explained: (Zech 9: 9-10): Alexander the Great conquered Judah in 333 BC. At the time of the prophet Zechariah, Judah had been a subject state for a very long time. The prophet began (Zechariah 9:1-8), by announcing that the Lord would conquer Judah’s foes and liberate Judah. Then, he described Judah's new king who would rule them in peace and prosperity. Although this is interpreted as a Messianic prophecy and is applied to Jesus, the promised Messiah, in the days of Zechariah, the promise simply referred to an “anointed person,” or king, because anointing was the kernel of the royal enthronement ceremony in Judah. In those days, the king used a donkey for ceremonial rides in times of peace and a horse during wartime, indicating that the purpose of the King in Israel was not imperialism but justice and fidelity to a higher, invisible King -- God. The donkey represented simplicity, stability and peaceful days of rest. Thus, the prophet was promising that the people enslaved by the Greeks and the Babylonians would have their long-awaited rest, peace and prosperity. In today’s Gospel, Jesus, the true Messiah, invites all the overburdened ones to his side for lasting peace and perfect rest.
The second reading explained: (Romans (8:9, 11-13): Here Paul speaks of two yokes, namely, the “flesh” and the “Spirit.” Before coming to Jesus we are in the flesh (sin), debtors to the flesh; we live according to the flesh, and so we die. If we belong to Christ, the Spirit of God dwells in us, and He will set us free from the flesh and will restore our mortal bodies to life. Though we cannot rescue ourselves from “this body of death” (Romans 7: 24-25), we have been rescued by Christ. But we are still under the yoke of the flesh to the extent that we try to save ourselves and “earn” salvation by our own unaided efforts through how well we keep the rules and regulations. Such a view shows pride. Rather we're called to be yoked to the Spirit, to let the Spirit dwell in us, sanctifying us not by our works but by the undeserved grace of God, the only power capable of bringing life from death. We have only God to thank for this undeserved grace, and we thank Him by willingly observing His commandments and serving others with love.
Exegesis: A blow to intellectual pride: In the first part of the Gospel, Jesus is condemning intellectual pride. He knows that ordinary people with large, sensitive hearts can accept the “Good News” he preaches, while proud intellectuals cannot. Even the learned rabbis of Jesus’ time recognized that the simplest people were often nearer to God than the wisest. They composed stories to show that ordinary people often practiced great love and compassion, for instance, the story of the man who lent his tools to someone in need, or the woman who helped her neighbors. Jesus says that such people will inherit Heaven rather than the learned and the wise who pride themselves on their intellectual achievements but do not love.
Jesus’ unique claim to be God’s perfect reflection: “No one really knows the Father except the Son, and him to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him" (Matthew 11: 27). The claim that Jesus alone can reveal God to men forms the center of the Christian Faith. Jesus makes the same claim in different words, as we see in the Last Supper discourse. Jesus says, "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (Jn.14:9). What Jesus says is this: "If you want to see what God is like, if you want to see the mind of God, the heart of God, the nature of God, if you want to see God's whole attitude to men -- look at Me!"
Invitation to accept Jesus’ easy yoke: Near the final section of today's Gospel, Jesus promises a worldwide dominion of peace, not as the world gives peace but as the Spirit gives it. Here, Jesus addresses people who are desperately trying to find God, who are exhausted by the search for truth, who are desperately trying to be good, and who find the task impossible. God gave His People basic guidelines for a holy life, but the Pharisees ended up making God's Law inaccessible and impossible to follow. For the orthodox Jew, religion was a matter of burdens: 613 Mosaic laws and thousands of oral interpretations which dictated every aspect of life. Jesus invites burdened Israel and us to take his yoke upon our shoulders. In Palestine, ox-yokes were made of wood and were made to fit the ox comfortably. For a contemporary analogy, consider the advantages of new, high-tech, custom-made athletic equipment. The yoke of Christ can be seen as the sum of our Christian responsibilities and duties. To take the yoke of Christ is to put ourselves in a relationship with Christ as his servants and subjects and to conduct ourselves accordingly. The yoke of Christ is not just a yoke from Christ but also a yoke with him. A yoke is fashioned for a pair -- for a team working together. So we are not yoked alone to pull the plow by our own unaided power; we are yoked together with Christ to work with Him using His strength. By saying that his “yoke is light” (11:30), Jesus means that whatever God sends us is made to fit our needs and our abilities exactly.
Accept the light burden of Jesus’ teaching: The second part of Jesus’ claim is: "My burden is light" (11:30). Jesus does not mean that the burden is easy to carry, but that it is laid on us in love. This burden is meant to be carried in love, and love makes even the heaviest burden light. When we remember the love of God, when we know that our burden is to love, both directly and by loving men, the God Who loves us, then the burden becomes easy. Jesus is returning to the simplicity of God's original Covenant and Law, giving people what they need to guide them on their path easily. By following Jesus, a man will find peace, rest, and refreshment. Although we are not overburdened by the Jewish laws, we are burdened by many other things: business, concerns about jobs, marriage, money, health, children, security, old age and a thousand other things. Jesus' concern for our burdens is as real as his concern for the law-burdened people of his day. "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest" (11: 28). Jesus still gives us rest! Is Jesus calling on those who are carrying heavy loads to come and add a yoke to their burden? Doesn’t that sound like adding affliction to the afflicted? No; Jesus is asking us to cast away our burdens and take on his yoke. This is because, unlike the burdens we bear, his yoke is easy and his burden light. The yoke of Jesus is the love of God. By telling us: "Take my yoke . . . and you will find rest" (11:29), Christ is asking us to do things the Christian way. When we center in God, when we follow God’s commandments, we have no heavy burdens.
Life messages: 1) We need to unload our burdens before the Lord. One of the effects of Worship for many of us is that it gives us a time for rest and refreshment when we let the overheated radiators of our hectic lives cool down before the Lord. This is especially true when we unload the burdens of our sins and worries on the altar and offer them to God during the Holy Mass. But whether we are in Church, alone in our quiet spot where we come before God each day, in our homes or in the homes of our friends and neighbors, we find that prayer and Christian fellowship bring us the rest and refreshment that we all need so much. There is nothing quite like coming to the Lord and setting aside our burdens for a while - nothing quite like having our batteries recharged, our radiators cooled down and our spirits lifted. Jesus promises rest from the burdens that we carry - rest from the burdens of sins, legalism and judgment, from the weight of anxiety and worry, from the yoke of unrewarding labor and from the endless labor for that which cannot satisfy. The absolution and forgiveness which we receive as repentant sinners take away our spiritual burden and enable us to share the joy of the Holy Spirit.
2) We need to be freed from unnecessary burdens: Life's greatest burden is not having too much to do, nor having too much to care. Some of the happiest folk are the busiest and those who care the most. Rather, the greatest burden we have is our constant engagement with the trivial and the unimportant, with the temporary and the passing and with the ultimately uncontrollable and unpredictable. The issue in life is not whether we shall be burdened, but with what we shall be burdened. The question is not “Shall we be yoked?” but “To what and with whom shall we be yoked?” Jesus has no interest in unburdening us from our exaggerated self-esteem and from other modern infatuations (which are themselves debilitating burdens), in order to leave us with nothing to carry, no work to do. Instead, Jesus is interested in lifting off our backs the burdens that drain us and suck the life out of us, so that he can place around our necks his own yoke, his burden, that brings to us and to others through us, new life, new energy, new joy. God's incomparable, compassionate forgiveness is a gift that releases us into life with God as responsible human beings who want to grow deeper in love and joyful obedience. We are called not only to find peace, refreshment and rest for ourselves, but also to live the kind of life through which others, too, may find God's peace, God's refreshing grace, and the joy of placing their lives in God's hands.
POPE FRANCIS’ WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT
Weep not for what you have lost, fight for what you have.
Weep not for what is dead, fight for what was born in you.
Weep not for the one who abandoned you, fight for who is with you.
Weep not for those who hate you, fight for those who want you.
Weep not for your past, fight for your present struggle.
Weep not for your suffering, fight for your happiness.
With things that are happening to us, we begin to learn that nothing is impossible to solve, just move forward. (Homily prepared by Fr. Anthony Kadavil)