Memorial of St. Bonaventure, bishop and doctor of the Church
Isaiah 26:7-9, 12, 16-19
In the 11th chapter of his gospel Matthew gathers the teaching of Jesus as to his mission (in response to messengers from John), as to John’s place among the prophets, a warning to the towns that did not accept his teaching, a revelation of his intimate relationship with his Father, and finally the invitation to come to him that is today’s scripture for us.
This is certainly a well known passage. "Come to me all you who labor" The Greek can also mean "are weary" or "are exhausted". What are people weary of? The burdens they carry. Jesus, as he does elsewhere, is alluding to the burdens of keeping the law. (Mt 24:3) The many rules and regulations that an observant Jew needed to obey. The good news that Jesus is offering is that coming to him, giving him one’s heart, is to forever lay down the burden of the law and find rest.
How do I read this for myself? Certainly the burdens of the law can be a metaphor for the difficulties, hardships and pains of life. But then the metaphor breaks down. Jesus removed the burden of the law, but he has not promised to remove the difficulties, hardships and pains of life. Rather he intimates that they will always be there: "Take up your cross daily and follow me". (Lk 9, 23) So what we are left with is that somehow Jesus will
help us through difficulties, hardships and pains of life so that they do not exhaust or weary us. I wish I could say that from my own experience, but I personally have been blessed throughout my life. Maybe my test is still to come.
However, I will personally vouch for Jesus’ description of "a yoke that is easy". The Greek word can also mean "well fitted". As a carpenter by occupation Jesus probably made yokes for oxen. He knew how they had to carefully measured and crafted for each individual oxen. So Jesus is implying that whatever God sends us is made to fit our needs and abilities exactly. I have felt that as a Christian. Jesus has shared with us his Spirit. I have found inspiration in the scriptures, forgiveness in the sacrament of Reconciliation, and nourishment in the Eucharist. I made my vows as a Passionist fifty-five years ago. This is a yoke that has made me happy and fulfilled.
Fr. Michael Hoolahan, C.P. is on the staff of Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.