Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“At that time, Jesus answered and said, ‘Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’”
Our Lord speaks these words of supreme comfort most familiar to us. Perhaps they rank right up there with those of the great Prophet of the Nativity, Isaiah, who once spoke words of hope to a beleaguered Israel, “’Comfort ye, comfort ye My people,’ saith your God” (Is. 40:1). They are words tenderly spoken by the Suffering Servant of YHWH, the Messiah, as foretold by that same Prophet. For “’A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench; . . . .’” (Is. 42:3). Many of us, depending on our life circumstances, are like old Ebenezer Scrooge in his face-to-face encounter with the ethereal spirit of his old deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, who has just forecaste a bleak picture for the old miser if he not turn from his ways and live (Ek. 33:11). Scrooge pleads, “’Speak comfort to me, Jacob!’”
But, what Jesus says is set within the larger context of this chapter in St. Matthew’s Gospel. John the Baptist has sent word to Jesus from his prison cell asking if He indeed is the One to come to which our Lord offers up the messianic signs being fulfilled in Him: the blind see, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them (Mt. 11:1-6). But, despite this, Jesus points out that both He and the Forerunner are being rejected: John is accused of being demon possessed and our Lord is maligned as an indulger of the passions, a friend of tax collectors, and horror of horrors – a friend of sinners! But, our Lord, quite composed, simply remarks, “’But wisdom is justified by her children’” (Mt. 11:7-19).
Our Lord then goes on to warn all those cities who have ignored Him and dismissed His call to repentance that had the works He now does been done in Sodom and Gomorrah, in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago. Indeed, it will be far more tolerable for them on the day of judgment than for those who now stubbornly refuse to hear the Gospel of the Kingdom of God (Mt. 11:20-24). And then He offers up a prayer of thanksgiving to God the Father, blessing His holy Name for hiding these things from the self-proclaimed wise and prudent of the world and for revealing these mysteries to the children of wisdom, that is, to babes, as He calls them affectionately. It is here that we learn that we who have received the divine revelation of the Mystery of the Kingdom of God, we who repent and turn again unto the Lord, do not do so of ourselves. But rather it is the work of God in us which we have not hampered – the work of the grace of the Holy Spirit in our souls (Pp. 1:6; 2:13). Indeed, as our Lord tells us elsewhere, “’You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, . . . .’” (Jn. 15:16). In fact, it is the Father’s work in us and for us. “’No one can come to Me,’” Jesus says, “’unless the Father Who sent Me draws him; . . . .’” (Jn. 6:44). “For by grace you have been saved [and are being saved and will be saved] through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ep. 2:8-9). We are assured by the Bishop and Shepherd of our souls (1 Pe. 2:25), “’All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out’” (Jn. 6:37). The fact that we are here today, that we hear the Gospel and believe, remains a testimony to the mysterious work of God the Father through His Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. “’No one comes to the Father except through Me,’” says our Lord (Jn. 14:6).
And so, our Lord – as should we – offers up thanksgiving, that is, He makes Eucharist for the great saving Mystery of the Kingdom revealed only to wisdom’s babes. “’Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight’” (Mt. 11:25-26). And then, He stretches forth His arms and He says, “’Come unto Me all ye that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’” Jesus the Son of the Father invites all who find themselves weighed down with burdens too great to bear to “’come.’” All who can barely stand under the great weight of life, “’Come.’” All who stumble blindly through the darkness of this world, carrying the great weight of sin and guilt, “’Come.’” You who are held hostage by sin, death, and the devil, who can barely breath because of that great and terrible burden, “’Come.’” “’Come unto Me . . ., and I will give you rest.’” This is what our Lord says to us who are sick and tired of the world’s so-called wisdom which only proves to be utter foolishness time after time. He invites us to embrace true Wisdom – His wisdom. He invites us to embrace Him for He is the Wisdom of God come down from Heaven and in His wisdom will we find rest for our souls (1 Cr. 1:30).
But, let us take note what else our Lord says to us who come to Him without one plea. He says our rest is found in the taking on of His yoke. “’Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me,’” He says. This is exactly what we are counseled to do in the Wisdom of Sirach, otherwise known as Ecclesiasticus – the Church’s Book. Perhaps Jesus had this passage from Sirach in mind when He extended His invitation as such. There Wisdom says to us:
Draw near to me, untaught ones, and lodge in my school. Why do you say that you are lacking in these things, yet you let your souls thirst exceedingly? I opened my mouth and said, ‘Gain wisdom for yourselves without money. Place your neck under her yoke, and let your soul receive her instruction. She is near that you might find her. See with your own eyes that I labored little, but found much rest for myself. Partake of instruction with a great amount of silver, and gain much gold with it. May your soul be gladdened by His mercy, and may you not be put to shame when you praise Him! Do your work before the appointed time, and He will give you your reward in His appointed time’ (Sr. 51:23-30).
Our Lord invites us into the school of His wisdom, to put about our necks His divine yoke, and there as we apply ourselves to His words and His ways, as we bow our necks ever so humbly and submissively to His yoke, we “’learn of [Him],’” that is, we partake of Jesus’ meekness and lowliness. “[F]or I am meek and lowly of heart,’” He says, “’and ye shall find rest unto your souls.’” We must be converted and become as babes in Christ God, children of Wisdom enfleshed, if we wish to enter into the Kingdom of God and His rest (Mt. 18:4).
The way to God’s rest is through the bearing of the yoke of the Son of God crucified and risen. This we must understand. For some, the prospect of wearing a yoke is little else than bondage – enslavement – lack of freedom, a chaffing and a grating. But, to those who submit to the yoke of Jesus Christ it is rest and salvation and joy and Life Everlasting. A yoke, to be sure, can bind and restrict – something a wild beast would surely resist! But, a yoke can also mean liberty. It can be a freeing experience because it is a shared experience: the work of one is shared now by two yoked together to bear the burden. “’Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me,’” says our Lord, “’learn [from] Me.’” This is what St. Paul is driving at when he says multiple times throughout his Epistles that we are “in Christ.” When we were baptized, we were baptized into Christ, we put on Christ, thus making us “in Christ,” yoked to Jesus Christ, united to Him (Rm. 6:3-5; 13:14; Ga. 3:27). This is precisely the language of our baptismal service. The baptismal candidate is asked, “Have you united yourself to Christ?” to which he or she responds, “I have united myself to Christ.” In other words, “I have yoked myself to Christ by the confession of my lips and the repentance of my heart.” This mystical yoking occurs as well in the Mystery of Holy Marriage – in the sacramental union of man and woman – of husband and wife.
Some yokes indeed are made to be thrown off. The yoke of human slavery without question! The yoke of the bondage to sin, death, and the devil – absolutely! And, there are some yokes to be taken on voluntarily for our good. The yoke of friendship, to be sure. The yoke of freedom, indeed. The yoke of Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cr. 2:2) – is the only thing that can truly set us free and give rest unto our souls worn out by labor that goes nowhere and produces little or no fruit worth anything. The yoke of the Cross is the power of God, the wisdom of God, and foolishness to the self-proclaimed wise and prudent of the world (1 Cr. 1:18-31; Ga. 6:14). The yoke of humility saves all who submit themselves to it. “Therefore,” says St. Peter, “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, . . . .” (1 Pe. 5:6). Sacred Scripture promises that God gives His grace to the humble (Pr. 3:34; Jm. 4:6; 1 Pe. 5:5, 6), a reality manifested in truth in the Mystery of Confession.
In the Mystery of Repentance and Reconciliation, we throw off the yoke of sin by humbly bowing our necks to the yoke of Christ. In the liturgical act itself, the priest, around whose neck the yoke of Christ is placed in the wearing of the stole, takes that yoke and places it over the head of the penitent to pronounce the absolution. In doing so, the priest liturgically links the penitent believer to the Lord, in a sense re-yoking that soul to Christ. The yoke, broken by sin, is repaired, healed, and restored in the act of confession and absolution. For remember, beloved, the whole point of confessing our sins in this Mystery is to receive our Lord’s absolution! Indeed, it is to lighten the load of our sin by humbly bowing ourselves to Christ. In doing so, we receive the saving and sanctifying grace of God we otherwise deny ourselves.
Our saving and sanctifying relationship with Jesus Christ, the Wisdom and Word of the Father made flesh, is a yoked relationship. Without Him we can do nothing. Apart from Him we can bear no useful fruit. That’s what our Lord tells us (Jn. 15:4-5). As God, He has no need to be yoked with us, but we have every need to be yoked to Him and with Him. Only in Him do we find the truth of what He says, “’For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.’” This is what all the saints have found over the years and the centuries of life in Christ. This is the divine paradox and the Mystery of the Gospel that the world cannot see or receive: to be yoked to Jesus Christ is to be free! For, “’if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed’” (Jn. 8:36).
‘Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.’
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
VIGIL PROPERS: PROPERS:
WS 3:1-9 Ga. 5:22-6:2
WS 5:15-6:3 Mt. 11:27-30