COME TO ME WITH ALL YOUR BURDENS, SAYS THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
REV. FR. JOHN-MARY BENEDICT NTOL ATEP
Readings: Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30
This Sunday’s Gospel, presents one of the most powerful and insightful Gospel passages. It has 3 parts: a prayer – “I bless/thank you, Father”; a declaration of Jesus about Himself – “Everything has been given to me by my Father” and an invitation – “Come to me all who labour.”
Friends in Christ, the theme of our readings today is the invitation to come to Jesus Christ with all our burdens of life. Jesus says in the Gospel reading: “Come to me, all who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). This expression of Jesus Christ is very timely as globally we are being confronted by the Coronavirus pandemic. Therefore it should be taken seriously and not as a pious talk.
The first reading presents Zechariah’s prophecy about the restoration of Israel. Israel was overburdened during the reign of Alexander the Great. So, the Lord raised Zechariah the prophet to assist the people of Israel to reconstitute their nation after their return from the Babylonian exile.
And St. Paul tells us how to embrace the invitation to trust in God. He says we should activate the Spirit of God in us as against the flesh or ego that will mislead us.
The responsorial psalm is a song of praise and thanksgiving. It exhorts us to put our trust in God and not in the foolishness of this passing world.
Friends in Christ, apart from the collective trauma of COVID-19, we are trapped in all sorts of burdens of life. They are heavy in our heads and on our shoulders, in our hearts and on our minds. We have the burden of parenting, difficult and unproductive children; the burden of marriage (You hear couples saying they are in marriage because of one reason or the other. Marriage is not to be managed or endured. It has its own burdens, therefore, we do not need to add more. If there are, please surrender them to Jesus Christ the author and perfecter of Marriage); the burden to love and be generous; the burden of incurable ailments; the burden of addictions to sin and other addictive behaviours. Some have the burden of being widowed; the burden of labouring hard without any type of appreciation; the burden of work; administrative burdens without self-care and the burden of debts. Again, there are disturbing statistics of stress through painful symptoms like anxieties, depression and loneliness. Oh we have the burden of the soul being tormented by spiritual predicaments, decay and restlessness. The list is endless. Please complete it! These issues provoke the search for immediate solutions.
There is this popular story that a retreat director shared with us some time ago: He said, A Nigerian Catholic driver had a lot of burdens bothering him and picked up a patient from hospital. He didn’t know the religion of the patient but on the way home the patient wanted to visit a native doctor. The Catholic consented and led by curiosity he went into the native doctor’s house to watch the proceedings with the patient. The native doctor asked the patient to shake a bunch of stones in his closed hand and throw them on a mat on the floor. The native doctor would then give judgment based on the arrangement of the stones on the mat. Instead of spreading out as you would expect all the stones landed together in a heap on the centre of the mat so that the native doctor was unable to read them. The patient was asked to shake and throw the stones again. The same thing happened. Again a third time the native doctor asked the patient to shake and throw the stones. It happened again. This time the native doctor said, “There is a higher power than me working here. Empty out everything you both have in your pockets.” The Catholic driver took a Rosary beads from his pocket. The native doctor said, “That is it! That is what is blocking my power. Get you both out of here and don’t ever again come back.”
What is the way out of burdens?
First, let’s approach Jesus with our burdens – Acts 4:12 (Gratitude and prayer): When we are threatened by life crises, who do we turn to? If you are an infant before God, the answer would be to turn to Jesus who is our brother and friend – No wonder we usually sing: What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Decide for God: So, from our second reading we heard, “there is no necessity for us to obey our unspiritual selves (flesh) or to live unspiritual lives. If you do live in that way, you are doomed to die; but if by the Spirit you put an end of the misdeeds of the body you will live” (Rom. 8:12-13).
Counselling and spiritual direction as medication for burdens: When burdens are too much do not kill yourself. Share and put them done by letting go … Especially the men folk, we need to put down our manliness and share our burdens and become lighter psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. The expression by Jesus Christ, “Come to me all who labour and are overburdened” is a counselling and spiritual direction invitation. Going for counselling and spiritual direction is not just good for you as a person but it is a sign of caring for the gift of the self by God. A problem shared is half-solved as the saying goes!
We have this expression as people led by the Spirit, “offer it up.” To offer up our burdens is to ask God to unite it with those of Christ. St. Paul knew very well the issue of finding meaning in burdens, so, he says: “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Col. 1:24). We can do same!
We need to free ourselves from unnecessary burdens: The greatest burden we have in life is our constant engagement with the trivial and the unimportant things in life. For instance, the burdens of the past and the future; the burden of worries (Matt 6:34); the burden of failure (John 18:25-40); the burden of unnecessary friends, clubs and unions; the burden of anger and pride; the burden of unfriendliness; the burden of unhealthy sexual relationships; the burden of injustice; the burden of guilt (1Sam. 24:1-22); the burden of the fear of death, the fear of COVID-19, the fear of Satan and evil. The truth is that Jesus did not come to take away our burdens from us but He came to assist us by lifting off our backs the burdens that drain us and suck life out of us. He came to lighten our burden by helping us to shoulder the burden that will help us to live life to the fullest – the burden of love of God and neighbour. God bless you!
Texts for further reflection and prayer: Matt. 6:25-34; John 3:1-16; Ps. 139:1-18