Sermon for Third Sunday After Pentecost

July 2011

Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.

                                                                    Mt. 11:28-30

The Vale of Tears. Gustave Dore, 1883.

Before we ask why Our Lord speaks of ‘my yoke”, we must ask the meaning of a “yoke”:  a large metal harness placed over the back of an animal to restrain his movements and guarantee his disposition to the master’s purposes.  But what does this crude device have to do with Our Savior’s purposes.  Christ’s “yoke” is a symbol of His sovereign Divine authority.  It contrasts with a beast of burden’s yoke, in that man submits willingly to its restraints.

Christ’s ‘yoke” restrains man’s unruly passions and illicit desires, those which would lead him away from his true end, and smother the Divine voice which summons every soul to

His green pastures.  Moreover, the Savior’s yoke tames our run away pride, which is always coaxing us to smart against God’s proper governance.  Above all, the Divine yoke prevents us from the inevitable wanderings that each soul suffers. At first glance they seem so innocent, but invariably lead man away from the love of the Savior.

Promptly Our Lord expresses His Divine sympathy for the plight of fallen sinners.  Here it is where His luminous mercy towers over all of life, leaving us with hope.  The Savior’s mercy does not erase either the sin or the combat against sin.  His mercy is compassion for our struggle, not its elimination.  Divine mercy is the promise that our struggle will meet His grace at every turn, even as He acknowledges our burdens and our taxing labors.  The “labor” of which the Savior speaks is not the “working by the sweat of our brow:” mentioned in Genesis after the Fall as the just penalty for sin.  The labor is the persistent struggle against sin.  The “burdens”?  Of course, they are the cares of life which daily rest upon our shoulders.  More profoundly, those “burdens” are the temptations to sin; the riddles of our daily circumstance; the lure of self-absorption; the suffocation of avarice or the lash of self-pity.

Against the noon day heat of life’s struggles, the Savior promises to “give us rest.”  Not the tranquilizing repose the world offers, but the exhilaration of Divine love.  In the embrace of Our Lord’s love, nothing seems like a cross, though it is.  Nothing appears painful though it is. Under the strange alchemy of Divine love, crosses mysteriously turn to joy, and crippling burdens take on wings. 

One of the Scholastic axioms repeated by St. Thomas unlocks the secrets of Our Lord’s words: Ubi amor, ibi oculis (where there is love, there is the eye.)  Simply put, where love directs a man’s actions, he no longer sees the task before him as a duty, but as a prize. In the face of the beloved, the lover “sees” what no one else sees.  Love transforms, it “sees” the beloved differently.  Where love flourishes man “sees” his way to all things.  The therapist sees only the hopeless addict; the addict’s mother sees the son who will get well.  Love “sees” only possibilities, never obstacles:  Ubi amor, ibi oculis.  The world tells us that it is impossible be a saint; Christ declares that we can: “my yoke is sweet”.

Seeing is wondrous; but “seeing” is everything.

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