Monday, July 7, 2014

The Yoke of Love - Homily for the 14th Sunday in OT

Do you know about the Easy Button? The Easy Button comes from an office supply company commercial and it is supposed to be some magical button that, when you press it, everything is solved and you get what you want—without any work whatsoever. It’s red and it says, “Now that was easy!” The Easy Button.

I mention this because a few summers ago, I had the privilege of hiking Mt. Whitney in California. Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the lower 48, and, at 14,500 feet, you can imagine that the hike kicked my butt in pretty much every way. At the top, there was a special box where you could sign-in and record your accomplishment. Of course, people also leave all sorts of things in the box. And wouldn’t you know it? In this box and next to the sign-in sheet there was… a red Easy Button.

I laughed. “Now that was easy”?  Baloney! That was not easy!

(But, between you and me, I quietly wished for an Easy Button to get me back down the mountain…)

 “My yoke is easy, my burden is light.” Years ago when I heard these words, I did not like them. I thought they were too easy, like an Easy Button: a fantasy and ultimately a flippant response to real and gut-wrenching problems. “My yoke is easy, my burden is light”? – Baloney, Jesus! My dad died of a sudden heart attack. And before that, he had spinal tumors. And before that he lost his job and went through a messy divorce. So, “My yoke is easy, my burden is light”? Baloney!

I thought it was things like this that led people like Karl Marx to say that religion was just an opiate for the masses—we being the druggies and the priest being the drug dealer—a fantasy solution to real-world problems. So it became easy to dismiss this whole Jesus and religion thing.

Instead, I went in search for “real answers.” Marx seemed to be a realist, so why not look to him? And as I studied him and his theories, in books and lived by various nations throughout human history, I realized that Marx’s supposed real-world solutions led to even greater real-world problems and, ironically, many of those problems concerned those whom Jesus addressed today: namely, those who labor and are burdened. I noticed how workers were separated from the fruits of their labor and, worse, because there was no religion, there was nothing to keep men from making other men into machines.

But I wasn’t a machine. I knew I had a heart—a heart that hurt when any one of my loved ones hurt.

Marx told me to just keep working. That was his Easy Button. And I didn’t like it. It was inhumane. It didn’t recognize that I have a heart. Ultimately, I found that Marx’s yoke was heavy—it was slavery. The yoke was on me.

I could continue to tell you the nitty-gritty of my life, but I will summarize by saying that, after Marx, I found myself yoked to so many things, enslaved to so many false promises of an easy life free of suffering. Yoke after yoke brought me deeper and deeper into meaningless suffering caused by slavery: slavery to my phone, slavery to an endless string of days without rest, slavery to seemingly insatiable desires that seemed impossible to fill. Yoke after heavy yoke.

And yet, in that heavy weight of darkness, the voice of the Lord spoke once again: My yoke is easy. My yoke is easy.

I remembered that, historically, Jesus had a life of carrying heavy burdens. He knew suffering, right? He knew what it was like to be under the heavy weight of life. And still he says “My yoke is easy, my burden is light.” What if these weren’t easy-button or flippant words? What if these words came from a God-man who knew suffering and had something deep to tell us?

That something deep came when I remembered that Christians call God “Father.” As a father, I know that when we love our children, we literally feel their burdens. I’m sure all the parents out there know this: as they suffer, we suffer too. And why? Because we love them. So, when I remembered that God is Father, it became very clear to me that God suffers—not only because of the Cross, but because of the love he has for his children.

Love. This is the yoke that Jesus is talking about. This is the yoke that is easy and the burden that is light.

But more than just telling us how he is going to help us with our burdens, Jesus is firstly telling us something about his love for us. When He says, “My yoke is easy, my burden is light,” He is saying: I love you so much that I don’t care how much I have to suffer for you; even the greatest suffering, when it is for you, is light. 

It is really quite amazing—romantic, even—when we hear it this way.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” Receive my love, learn how it changes everything—even the weight of your suffering.

This was no easy-button answer. It didn’t avoid the suffering nor dismiss it or wish it away. Instead, and for the first time, it took my suffering seriously—it came from someone who knew my suffering deeply. Jesus was reaching into the very depths of my suffering and fears and was saying: you know what, your life is not absurd; there is meaning here and it goes straight to the deepest longings of your heart.

Jesus was saying: “Come to me.” Come to me. Come to me and I will give you rest. I have suffered for you. Let me help you with my love. Come to me. When you’re feeling worn down by the world, don’t go to the TV. Come to me. When you feel stressed out or anxious or frustrated, don’t go to the old yokes of alcohol, porn, gossip, or wrath—they just make things worse and the burden heavier. Come to me. And I will give you rest.

When I got down on my knees in prayer, coming to the Lord, I will admit that I didn’t feel this rest at first. All the other yokes had left me restless, searching, enslaved—life was totally up to me, every day had become a work day, I couldn’t sleep, I was overwhelmed, then burned-out, then cynical; everything had become a burden… It was going to take a little time to turn my ship around.

In time, when I trusted and opened my heart more to that Someone beyond myself, this God who suffers because He loves, I gradually found rest. Sure, I still had responsibilities to keep and I still would suffer—God does not pretend to take those away—but they finally had meaning, and not an easy-button or flippant meaning, but something deep and which responded to the reality and oftentimes messiness of life.

In fact, as I look back, I realize that when I dismissed this Jesus and his words as baloney, I realize that I was the one who was flippant: I was the one who had minimized his suffering and thus I had minimized his love. And because of that, I had minimized his power to reach into the depths of my greatest fears and sufferings and longing. I had to ask myself: where was my heart? where was my love?

Let us hear his words with new ears, attuned to his suffering for love of us: “Come to me, all you who are labored and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for my yoke is easy, my burden is light.” Let us come to Him now in trust and in love.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful reflection, Fr. Anthony. Thanks for sharing. Be blessed!