Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 3m 2011 – St. John’s, Goshen
The beautiful passage we have just heard stands out in the Synoptic Gospels where we are more accustomed to the down-to-earth language of Jesus as, for example, in his parables or in his forceful and usually very pithy statements. But in today’s Gospel reading, he speaks more in the manner characteristic of the Fourth Gospel, where Jesus’ language is loftier, eagle-like in its transcendence. Some scholars have even spoken of the words we have heard today as a “Johannine thunder-clap out of the clear Synoptic sky.”
His words begin in praise and thanksgiving to God, addressed as his Father, that the message he has been given to bring has been received as revelation by “the little ones,” even though “the wise and the learned” have rejected it. A familiar Gospel-pattern appears again here: the usual estimates of what counts as knowledge and wisdom are being overturned, another aspect of the reversal whereby the first become last, and the last first.
There follows the claim to an extraordinary intimacy with God. No one knows the Son as the Father does, nor the Father as the Son does. It is the same intimacy that is expressed in Jesus’ own prayer to God and into which he invites his disciples when he teaches them to pray to God with the same intimate word, an infant’s word: “Abba! Father!” That we may use the same word in addressing God that Jesus did was for St. Paul the proof that we have been made God’s daughters and sons.
Finally, there is the beautiful invitation that we ought to engrave on our hearts and minds: “Come to me,” Jesus says, “come to me, you who labor and are burdened.” Perhaps he was thinking of people who find religion hard work, or who feel burdened, overwhelmed by all the demands that many religious leaders of his time were imposing upon the people. But we can surely extend the meaning further and think of anyone who feels life a burden, especially anyone who feels like giving up. To them in particular Jesus says “Come to me, come to me, and I will give you rest.”
If you will follow me, he goes on, that is, if you take my yoke on you by learning from me, you will find the rest you desire, because my yoke is easy and my burden is light. We may be tempted to object that the path that Jesus outlines in his teaching–especially in the extraordinary demands of the Sermon on the Mount–is hardly easy. And that’s true enough. Avoiding not just murder but hatred, not just adultery but lust, being willing to forgive, turning the other cheek, taking the initiative in reconciling, and many other things in Jesus’ teaching–these are not easy ideals to live up to. But if we learn from him, not only from his teaching but also from his example, then we learn to love, gradually begin to love as he loved, to the point that what may appear difficult or even impossible to those who do not love becomes more like something natural, something as spontaneously and unself-consciously done as is the love of a mother for her child.
Perhaps all stages are represented among in this congregation. There may be some who entered this church feeling burdened by various cares. Listen to Jesus: “Come to me,” he says, and he will never stop saying, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.” There may be some who find this whole religious thing anything but light and easy, and he says, “Learn from me”–make me your focus, not rules and regulations; learn from me, learn how to see as I see, learn how to love as I love. There may be some who find joy and peace in their Christian living, and to them he says his welcome, too, even while reminding them that it is to the little ones that the Father reveals his mysteries, so that they should not boast of their condition as if it were not God’s great gift.
To everyone of us Jesus issues his invitation: “Come to me.” It is the invitation held out to us at every Mass, and he awaits our response.