“Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.”
These words from our Lord are most consoling for all of us. The Lord knows how tired and weary we are. We feel that this life is too demanding and tiresome. We are burdened by our office, responsibilities, anxieties and our past hurts and sins.
For those of us in public office or have our loved ones to look after, our life is always about giving and giving. Everyone is making demands of us and expecting us to be at their beck and call. Bishops, priests, social workers and parents are often overwhelmed by the demands on us. We are tired and sometimes feel that we have no more energy left to give. Some suffer from burnout. We are also burdened by our responsibilities. We feel responsible for our children and our elderly. We have to provide for their financial and medical needs. We have to find money to care for them, their education, their food, housing, expenses, etc. At the same time, we have to make time to look after them, tuition them, listen to their woes.
We are also burdened by anxieties,whether our children are doing well in their studies, mixing with the right company, whether they are able to get into a good school; whether our demented elderly are coping at home, their illnesses, etc. Finally, we are burdened because we cannot let go of the past, especially those hurtful events in our lives. We continue to bear grudges against our parents, loved ones, guardians, friends and our bosses. When we think of them, we are filled with anger and resentment and also remorse. We cannot forgive others nor ourselves.
All these weigh us down and make life so burdensome and tiring. We wish to die early and be released from the burdens we carry each day. If we are feeling this way, it is because we have taken all these burdens upon ourselves. We feel that we must accomplish and fulfill all the needs that others have placed upon us. We use our own strength, thinking we can carry these by ourselves. This is the sin of pride. We think we are in control of this world.
For this reason, we are called to acknowledge our limitations in all humility and to rely on God instead. Jesus said, “Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” We must learn humility and gentleness towards ourselves from our Lord. We are not all powerful and we are not gods! We cannot do all these by our own strength alone. We need the strength that comes from God. This is what the prophet Isaiah assured us, “He gives strength to the wearied, he strengthens the powerless. Young men may grow tired and weary, youths may stumble, but those who hope in the Lord renew their strength, they put out wings like eagles. They run and do not grow weary, walk and never tire.”
Secondly, in humility, let us acknowledge that it is our pride that is the cause of our stress and misery. We want to do well. We have our ambition. We want to be better than others. We are perfectionists. As a result, we become tense, irritable and always not satisfied with ourselves and with others who are under our care. In humility, let us also acknowledge our sins of greed and anger that make us pursue these worldly things. We never feel that we have enough. We are always craving for this and that, falling into the sins of envy and greed. So if we wish to enter the Kingdom of God, then Jesus says that we must be like a little child. “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.” (Mt 11:25f)
How, then, can we live our lives without so much stress? Firstly, let us trust in divine providence and the power of God. Our minds are too finite to understand the ways of God. The Lord reprimanded Israel for saying, “My destiny is hidden from the Lord, my rights are ignored by my God” Such accusations against God come from our lack of understanding and appreciation of the power and mercy of God. The Lord instead questions our knowledge of creation. He said, “To whom could you liken me and who could be my equal? Lift your eyes and look. Who made these stars if not he who drills them like an army, calling each one by name? So mighty is his power, so great his strength, that not one fails to answer. Did you not know? Had you not heard? The Lord is an everlasting God; he created the boundaries of the earth. He does not grow tired or weary, his understanding is beyond fathoming.”
Secondly, we must carry the yoke with Jesus. This means that we must accept the yoke that is placed on us. We all lament about our sufferings and the situation we are in. The other side of the grass always looks greener. The truth is that the cross that we are carrying is the cross that fits us. When Jesus asks us to carry the yoke with Him, He is inviting us to accept the cross in our life just as He accepted the cross from the Father. Whichever cross we carry is that cross that fits us well. Indeed, the yoke that is placed on the shoulder of the ox was tailor-made in such a way that it sits perfectly. It is said that perhaps the best yokes in town were the ones made by our Lord as he was a carpenter for 30 years. Jesus understands perfectly how important the yoke must fit on the one who carries it. So when we carry our yoke, carry it with the understanding that God knows best and He knows that we can carry it. Otherwise, He would not have given us what we cannot do. In the parable of the Talents, God gave the servants different amounts of talent and they reaped different amounts as well. God gives us the talents that we are capable of using well. (cf Mt 25:14-30)
Thirdly, the yoke must be carried not just with humility but with gentleness of heart, with love for God, self and for others. We must not carry our responsibilities and fulfill them with stoic fidelity. This makes us unfeeling and hard people. It is interesting that the yoke refers to the commandments that the Jews had to perform each day and the laws that they needed to observe. And there were so many laws that it was almost impossible to live properly because of the many dos and don’ts. When the laws are observed in a legalistic way so that we will not incur the wrath of God, it is carried and fulfilled with resentment and hostility.
Rather, following Jesus, the yoke must be carried with love. Jesus said, “Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.” When we carry our crosses, not like a stoic but a man of love and compassion, then the duties and responsibilities will become more meaningful and rewarding. When we carry our crosses and tasks with love and for love, they become less tiring and more rewarding and fulfilling, knowing that we have given life to others and made a difference in their lives. By living for others, we free ourselves from being inward-looking and we no longer have to worry about ourselves.
Fourthly, we must bask ourselves in the love of God. This was what Jesus said earlier on before today’s reading. He spoke of His intimacy with the Father. “All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Mt 11:27) If Jesus found the strength to carry the cross even unto death, it was because He knew His Father’s love. We too need to find strength from His love. It is this assurance of His love for us that will give us the strength to continue loving when we are tired, hoping when we feel hopeless, believing when we feel it is too illogical. Indeed, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:35, 37-39)
Finally, we must surrender all our past to the Lord, our pains, mistakes and brokenness. We must be like the psalmist who could thank God for all the things that happened. Count His blessings, not our woes. As for our sins, let us trust in His mercy and forgiveness. With the psalmist, we say, “My soul, give thanks to the Lord all my being, bless his holy name. My soul, give thanks to the Lord and never forget all his blessings. It is he who forgives all your guilt, who heals every one of your ills, who redeems your life from the grave, who crowns you with love and compassion. The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy. He does not treat us according to our sins nor repay us according to our faults.” Let us not assume greater burdens than is necessary by carrying our grievances and hurtful memories. Learn to let go and surrender them to the Lord. With our sins and those who sinned against us lifted, our hearts will be lighter and with the eyes of God, we can see the crosses we carry positively as a sacrifice of love for God and for others.