14th Sunday Year A - Homily 3

Homily 3 – 2011 

What makes burdens burdensome?  Some of you will remember the song from the 70s: He’s not heavy; he my brother.  My googling tells me that it was the motto of the famous American BoysTown, run by the charismatic Fr Flanagan and featured in a film from the 40s.  He’s not heavy; he’s my brother. I think we can all relate to what it’s saying.

What is it saying?  Whatever our answer, I think it’s getting at what Jesus meant in today’s Gospel, when he said: My yoke is easy and my burden is light.  That remark of Jesus followed the earlier one: I will give you rest.  Well, there’s rest – and there’s rest!  The rest Jesus was talking about is not simply “flaking out”; it’s not putting your feet up and pouring yourself a drink at the end of a long day.  His rest doesn’t rule out – in fact it clearly makes room for it.  But more importantly, it involves shouldering his yoke and learning from him – learning from what the Gospel inadequately calls his gentleness and humility.

We’ll leave that hanging in the air for a moment.  Later in the Gospel, not long before they killed him, Jesus had criticised the common human attitude [exemplified by the Jewish legal experts – scribes and Pharisees] to bind up burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders and do nothing to alleviate them.  The burdens imposed by the experts in Jewish law were simply the laws, many of them spelt out there in their Scriptures.

Can God’s laws be burdens? burdens that Jesus wants to set us free from??  I think that anything imposed on us from outside, from others, can feel a burden.  Even God’s law, imposed from outside, can feel a burden – a burden that we might accept because it’s unsafe not to do so, because we’re scared, but consequently often accepted reluctantly, begrudgingly, casuistically, and perhaps with a degree of hostility (which most of us will immediately deny!)

He’s not heavy – he’s my brother!  But, if he’s not my brother, and if I’m made to carry him, he’s heavy alright.  What makes the difference between heavy and not heavy?  One answer may be where the motivation comes from – from inside me; from he’s my brother; or from outside, because you make me; because you’re bigger; because you’ve got the sanctions?  The yoke of Jesus … He doesn’t impose it from outside.  He invites us to shoulder it with him – freely.

But why on earth would we?  Well, he suggests that we first learn from him.  That means that we hang around, that we get to know him, that we see what makes him tick.  We let ourselves be impressed by him, be drawn even to love him, and we learn to tease out the practicalities of choosing to love – we begin to see how things connect up.  What we learn is not a series of rules and regulations, of laws and commands, even of expectations.  We find ourselves wanting to love, to love consistently, and to accept vulnerability.  We do not choose passivity, (as gentleness and humility can, wrongly, seem to suggest.  What Jesus had in mind was non-violence and absence of all one-up-man-ship).  In freely shouldering his yoke, we deliberately choose the way of non-violent love, which is anything but passive.

As we do that, we slowly turn the world around.  That is what redemption means.  But we don’t do it alone, by ourselves.  It is his project.  It is his yoke.  He invites us to help him with it, to share it with him.  And, most importantly, he invites us to keep learning – to keep learning.  When you think of it, that is why we are here today at Mass.