This week we will celebrate the birthday of our country (4th of July). Sometimes during the U. S. Independence Day celebrations we hear quoted 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.” One of the Gospel choices for the 4th of July (the same as for the feast of the Sacred Heart) is taken from Matthew, Chapter 11. Jesus offers rest to those “who labor and are burdened.” Listen again to the words of invitation: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free… send these, the homeless tempest-tossed to me.” Let us pray that these are not just words – may they truly reflect the attitude of our peoples, our government.
I find it interesting that every state in the union has some reference to God, Lord, Christ or a “supreme being.” For instance, here in Florida’ the constitution opens with the words: We, the people of the State of Florida, being grateful to Almighty God for our constitutional liberty…” Nine state constitutions specifically deny unbelievers the right to hold office and/or to serve on a jury. We pray this week that God will guide our country, beginning with us, to be a more inclusive, compassionate people.
Here’s the deal: if you will accept His “easy yoke,” your burden will light. You did notice that Jesus says: “Take my yoke upon you.” It is a voluntary acceptance. By declaring that his “yoke is easy” Jesus means that whatever God offers us is custom-made to fit our needs and our abilities exactly. God just does not give us burdens without supplying the graces, the strength and courage to shoulder the task. You know the story of the individual who asked God for a different cross. So, Jesus took her to the storehouse of crosses where she examined every cross more than once. When she finally chose one Jesus said, “My dear, that is the very cross I already gave you.” Our cross will not fit on anyone else’s shoulders or heart. It is mine alone and if I refuse it, who can take it on their shoulders? What won’t get done? Will it lie abandoned for all eternity?
The second part of Jesus’ claim is: “My burden is light.” He means if we voluntarily put our God-given yoke on our shoulders and walk in a direction set by the Divine Master, the yoke won’t chaff our flesh. The direction we are being led just happens to be the one that the master knows will lead us to green pasture, refreshment, peace and true joy. Jerome Kodell describes happiness as a “gift from people and events outside ourselves.” Joy is a gift of the Spirit and is generated from within when we walk heart to heart with our God. When oxen trudge ahead, they can’t envision the pasture at the end of the trail. All they see is a long, dusty road beneath their hoofs. But, that does not stop them. They plod on to a destination known only to the overseer. The yoke, the burden that we voluntarily take up in love is received from the hands of our loving God, placed on us in love and is meant to be carried in love. Love makes even the heaviest burden light. We only need to quiet down for a few moments in the green pasture of prayer and adoration to attune our ears once again to the voice of the Master.
Light burden = easy yoke. Or is it vice versa? You may reply that it sure doesn’t feel that way most of the time. This could be for one of two reasons. One: because we are not allowing the Lord to help us carry the weight. Remember Jesus let Simon help him with his cross. Or it may seem heavy because we are not keeping God’s pace. We could be dragging our heels or racing ahead. Either way, we are chafing and straining. 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. St. Benedict challenges us in chapter 72 of his Rule to lovingly carry each other’s burdens: “anticipate one another; patiently endure one another’s burdens, practice the most fervent love, tender charity chastely.”
The yoke chaffs when either member of the team tries to get ahead or one or the other of the pair doesn’t carry their share of the load or sits down on the job. It’s like when community members tug and pull against each other or when common practices are carelessly disregarded. When conflicts are resolved, the yoke once again rests evenly and thus easily on the shoulders of both who share the burden. You know it, you can sense it when community members walk side by side with a common aim in view. Each one lovingly regulates her step to keep pace with her sister.
Another reason the yoke may feel burdensome causing us to feel weary is that what we are carrying may simply not be the Lord’s yoke, but one of our own choosing or one we have usurped form another. We feel tired, worn out. Take time to discern why.
There are many sources of tiredness, weariness, and fatigue. Physical fatigue may be the most benign. There is the fatigue that comes from stress, fatigue that comes from worry, fatigue that comes not only from worrying about the future, but also worrying about the past and fatigue that comes from trying to be perfect, to be something we are not.
Life’s greatest burden is not having too much to do, nor having too much to care about because 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 ultimately what we have no control over or could have predicted. Pray often, and sincerely: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” (A.A. Simplicity Prayer)
The issue we contend with 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”? What we need, according to this wonderful gospel paradox, is a different yoke – the yoke of Christ. Jesus is interested in lifting off our backs the burdens that drain us and suck the life out of us, so that we can be free to accept the burden he has prepared just for us – the yoke that is guaranteed to give us new life, new energy, new joy. We are called, not only to find inner peace, refreshment and rest for ourselves, but also to live the kind of life through which others, too, may find God’s peace. The solution is easy – as a popular saying goes: “Let go! Let God!”
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress