"My yoke is easy and My burden is light." Is it true? If I asked for a show of hands of all the people here that have experienced Jesusí yoke as being easy and His burden as light, I wonder how many hands we would see?
Jesus has no intent to deceive. But is this our experience? That following Jesus involves a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light? Most of the people I talk to, say no, itís not the case. They experience living the Christian life as a great difficult thing. And the more holy they try to be, the harder the yoke, the more difficult it is. The key is the first part of that statement, "Come to Me". Most Christians have relatively well-formed consciences. They know what to do. They know what Jesus expects. But the knowledge of what He wants is not the same as the grace to carry it out. If it were, all we would have to do is have a perfect catechetical program in which everybody got the data and then all the lives would miraculously change and we would all be glow-in-the-dark sea-splitting-water-walkers with perfect lives, and instead of adding confession times, Iíd be decreasing them.
So itís obviously not just the information, it has to do with proximity to Jesus himself. It has to do with the second reading about being in the Spirit. "If the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He will give life to your mortal body as well." If the yoke is going to be easy and the burden is going to be light, that happens only in one way. Not that we have the best, most complete theological database possible, that helps, but thatís only the start. It has to do with the fact that we are in such proximity to Jesus as we live our lives that His grace enables us to overcome, to live in a way that is pleasing to Him, to be victorious. Not to be victorious in a kind of teeth-gritting determination that fills us with constant stress, but to be victorious in such a way that love and joy and peace pervade our hearts, that the yoke is easy, the burden is light, we will find rest for our souls. If the yoke is easy and the burden is light, it can only be because Jesus Himself in the power of the Spirit is carrying that burden for us as we go through our lives. The more we try to do it on our own, the heavier it will be, because in fact itís impossible on our own. It is the epitome of human arrogance to think we can live according to the Gospel on our own strength.
When Jesus said, without me you can do nothing, it didnít leave a lot of options. He would remind us: nothing means nothing. Without Me you canít take the next breath, without Me your heart cannot beat the next beat. Without Me you would not exist for the next nanosecond. Without Me youíre not capable of any moral act or any other act. Without Me you can do nothing. And yet we, in our arrogance and our pride, try to live the Christian Gospel on our own strength. And what do we experience: chronic failure, chronic inability to be free from serious sin, inability to live in joy, inability to provide a Christian witness that changes hearts around us, fundamental inability. And the amazing thing is that for this inability we frequently get mad at God, ĎItís your fault.í But the Scripture is clear. First He says: "Come to Me." If weíve only come close enough to find out what weíre supposed to do, but have not come close enough to get the grace to do it, thatís the problem. Finding out what to do is the easy part, e.g. for the moral life, you learn the Big Ten. Thatís what youíre supposed to do, but then the hard part is to live it out.
How close does Jesus want us to come to Him? He wants us to come close enough so that the yoke is easy and the burden is light, so that our experience of the fruits of the Spirit is real in our life. And what are the three primary fruits of the Spirit that everybody wants: love and joy and peace. Sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking that love and joy and peace is a consequence of a stress free life. Well, the only people that have a stress free life are probably pre-natal folks, and itís only stress free because they donít know any better. Our capacity to have a stress free life ends as we enter this world, at least as far as the actions of life go. To think that weíll finally someday just have enough money, just have enough of this or of that, so thereís no more stress in our life is just delusion because it will never be the case. But, sufficient proximity to Jesus in the power of the Spirit, enabling His grace and His strength to handle whatís in our life: thatís how we deal with the stress.
I saw this great T-shirt one of the kids was wearing at the boysí camp, it said: ĎIím too blessed to be stressed.í I loved it and hated it the moment I saw it. But thereís a basic truth there. If we find our lives overwhelmed with stress, the irony is that what we try to do is attack the points that are generating the stress rather than realizing that thatís not how we get grace, thatís not how we get peace. If we go after whatís stressing us, whatís stressing us just becomes greater and greater in our own sphere of action. What we need to do is realize that when weíre getting really stressed itís because we donít have enough of Jesus, and we need more of Him. But Heís not the one thatís clamoring for our attention. Whatever is stressing us is usually whatís clamoring for our attention.
In Elijahís encounter with God on the mountain top it wasnít the crashing thunderstorm and the fire and the wind and all those things that conveyed Godís presence, it was the still small voice, and when he heard that sound of a voice like a gentle whispering breeze, he realized God had come. If we pay all the attention in our lives to the smashing storm and the wind and the fire, then we miss the still small voice, then weíre on our own. Then we fail miserably. Jesusí words cannot be broken. "My yoke is easy and My burden is light, and you will find rest for your souls" is not a reference to Heaven. They will certainly be true in Heaven, but itís a reference to here and to now. And He has given us, fortunately, during the last two millennia, great men and women of God whoíve actually managed to pull this off. But if we look at their lives, we discover their lives are anything but stress free.
Look at the life of John Paul II: would you like to go to sleep every night with the spiritual welfare of every man, woman and child on earth your personal responsibility? Would you sleep like a baby? I would. Yeah, wake up every two hours and cry! But the Holy Father is a man of great serenity and great joy. Why? Because of his union with Jesus Himself.
Theresa of Calcutta, while she was still here, lived in the most stressful environments possible, doing the most distasteful and stressing things you can possibly imagine, and yet she too was a woman of great great serenity and joy, and she attributes it quite simply to the fact of her relationship with Jesus Himself. She said if she did not spend an hour every day before the Blessed Sacrament, adoring Him after she had received Him at Mass, she would never be able to recognize Him in His distressing disguise as the poorest of the poor.
If weíre stressed, itís because weíre not enough blessed. But how blessed we want to be is simply a function of our personal choice. What do we do to get closer to Jesus? What do we do to draw more deeply into the Sacred Heart of the One who loved us first? Jesus invites us today to take seriously the wonderful promise of this Gospel. But we must realize it starts when He says: "Come to Me." He doesnít say, "Just try a little harder and you can pull it off on your own." He doesnít say, "If you just had a little stronger will, if you just had a little less stress in your environment." He just says: "Come to Me." Itís the only way it works.
We come to Him, we plead with Him for more of what we desperately need, which is just more of Him. Then we can, with serenity and joy, walk into the arena and face the lions, because Jesus is ruling in our hearts, and whether He does a Daniel on the lions and closes their mouths, or whether weíre lunch, it wonít matter, because Jesus Himself will be holding us in the palm of His hand.
Nothing can take us out of His hand, but we have the freedom to jump out of it if we want, a freedom we exercise all too often. We all want the yoke that is easy, the burden that is light, and rest for our souls. Jesus will come to us today in His precious Body and Blood, and He will invite us to open our hearts to more of Him. Let us plead with Him for the wisdom and the humility necessary to ask Him for more, that what He promised in the Gospel today would be our experience. Not a stressed life of teeth-gritting determination trying to claw our way into glory, but to walk with Him Whose strength in carrying us makes the yoke easy and the burden light.