by Rev. Jerry J. Pokorsky
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
At that time Jesus said in reply, "I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.
"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."
In this week’s Gospel we are encouraged by Christ: “Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
If we too casually consider the tender words of Jesus in the Gospel, there might be a temptation to dismiss Him in the light of our personal difficulties. Where is Christ in the world fraught with war and violence? Where is Christ in my family, or sectors of my family, torn by disagreement and anger, and frayed by dysfunction? How can I seriously entertain the thought that Jesus Christ is central to my life and the reason for my being? How can the Church insist that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith?
It seems we have countless reasons to avoid Jesus Christ. Yet Jesus insists that we come to Him when our hearts are burdened.
The sacramentals of the Church, the sacred images and objects, are visible reminders of the loving presence of Christ. There is a popular picture of Christ that many Christians have framed in their homes. It is the picture of the Lord knocking at a door. But, if you’re familiar with this picture, you might have noticed there is a subtle difference in the two versions of it.
In the Protest version, reflecting classic Lutheran theology, the doorknob is on the outside. Even if there is no answer to the knock of Jesus, He may enter freely if He will. But in the Catholic version the door does not have an outside handle. If there is no answer to His knock Christ must wait patiently for the door to be opened, in freedom, from the inside. In the Catholic understanding the Creator of the Universe – all powerful and all good – apparently is powerless in the face of our freedom. (The healing miracles of Christ suggest that the Lord of the Universe had an easier time with our physical infirmities than with the stubbornness of our nature wounded by sin.)
Just as we look beyond the appearances of bread and wine in the Eucharist, we must look beyond the appearances of God’s powerlessness in the world. The fact is, God’s grace is everywhere, but accessible only to those who freely open their hearts to His presence. His love is so intense for us that He sent His only begotten Son into the world to tell us personally of that love. But His submission to the ignominy of crucifixion at the hands of men reveals that the gift of our freedom is so precious that He does not violate it by forcing Himself on us.
The freedom we have is the freedom to choose between two types of slavery. The first kind of slavery is slavery to sin It is the slavery of the man who refuses to open the door to Christ and allow Him to heal his own loneliness and despair. It is the slavery that crucifies the Lord time and again, from Auschwitz to our violent inner cities to the emptiness and turmoil of any life without Christ.
The second type of slavery is a voluntary and joyous “slavery” to the will of God. It is that “easy yoke” Jesus speaks of that brings confidence and serenity in our earthly trials. As a young chaplain during World War II, Archbishop (then Father) Joseph Ryan witnessed some of the worst most ferocious battles. One of the most vicious battle sites was the island of Peleliu in the South Pacific. There he would visit the troops in the field, blessing the Protest soldiers and administering the sacraments to the Catholic soldiers. It was during one such visit that he was confronted with the terrible reality of death in time of war.
Having just given Communion to three teenage soldiers, he was walking away when suddenly he was knocked to the ground by the force of a terrible explosion. He wheeled around to see that two of the soldiers had been, as he describes it, “blown to pieces.” The third soldier was barely alive, badly wounded, arms and legs blown off. Chaplain Ryan reports the dialogue that took place as he bent over the dying soldier to anoint him: “Father, how about me? Am I going to die?” the soldier pleaded, “Yes you are.”
There would be none of that. This young soldier would not say, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross and save me!” Rather, having opened his heart to Jesus Christ and submitted to His sweet yoke, his dying words were words of faith: “Hasn’t God been good? Jesus was within my buddies and He must have taken them right to heaven. He’s in me now and I am ready to be taken by Him.”
freely opening our doors to Jesus Christ in the sacraments and allowing Him to
transform our lives, we become slaves to His love and truth. Nothing can
compare to that refreshment and rest of soul Jesus promised.