June 23, 2020
Jesus’ criticism of the religious authorities for laying heavy burdens upon the people (Mt 23:4) “without lifting a finger to help them,” provides the contrast for our Gospel reading today. In the time of Matthew’s predominantly Jewish community, people are being faced with a choice of following the religious authorities and their rigorous interpretation of the Law, or of following Jesus who offers them “rest.” This “rest” is not the absence of work or activity. The Greek word used in the text is anapausis, which conjures up the refreshing break that travelers would enjoy at an oasis in the desert. It is also an allusion to participation in the rest of the seventh day of God’s creation and of the messianic age. It is a rest that provides for the fullness of life in the reign of God (Brendan Byrne, Lifting the Burden: Reading Matthew’s Gospel in the Church Today (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2004: 96).
Strangely, Jesus has, previously, indicated in the Sermon of the Mount that the disciples must surpass the Scribes and Pharisees in righteousness (Mt 5:20). So, how can this yoke be easy and this burden be light if it seems to demand more from the disciples of Jesus? Perhaps the solution to this seeming dilemma is the first part of the Gospel reading where Jesus promises to reveal to “the little ones” what it is to be in relationship with Him as He is with the Father. Whenever we are in a relationship of intimacy and love—like Jesus and the Father enjoy—our concern is wholly upon the other, and what seems to an outsider to be a “heavy burden,” we gladly accept and embrace because of the love that we have for the other. Countless parents have made incredible sacrifices for their children without counting the cost because they love them. Countless couples have made sacrifices for each other without counting the cost because they love each other. Countless friends have made sacrifices for others without counting the cost because they love them. Without being in the relationship of love, these sacrifices look daunting and burdensome. But, love changes everything. These same sacrifices now seem easy and light.