Jesus doesn’t say, Come to me when you’ve got things covered and everything is under control. ... The faithful subject themselves in order not to be slaves. They submit in order to remain free ...
Jesus doesn’t say, Come to me when you’ve got things covered and everything is under control. He says, Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened. That is: Come to me when your life is falling apart. Come to me when overwhelmed by problems with no answers. Come to me when by all accounts there’s no way out.
Come to me
A medieval spiritual master, Nicholas of Lyra (+1349), imagines Jesus saying, “Come, you who are locked out, to me, the gate of truth. Come, you who are sick, to me, the medicine of salvation. Come, you who are shipwrecked, to me, the secure harbor.” Another great of the Middle Ages, Nicholas of Gorran (+1295) wrote: “How admirable is the regard our God has for us. He invites enemies, he exhorts the guilty, he entices the ungrateful.”
The key is to continue what we started at Christmas: to come to Jesus — O come, let us adore him! Coming to Jesus means coming away from our own stagnant thoughts, our misgivings, our pessimism. “The nearer a being stands to God,” says St. Thomas Aquinas, “the further away it is from nothingness.” So we simply have to get near Jesus. We have to come to him, with our helplessness, our nothingness, our need.
Gentle and humble
But why would we? Humility was not a virtue in the ethics of ancient Greece and Rome, which associated humility with failure and shame. Yet humility is what Jesus puts before us to entice us. Why? Because authentic humility “is what makes a human being capable of God” (St. Thomas Aquinas). Which is why we find it so attractive when we discover humility in others.
St. Ambrose reflects on this: “Jesus did not say, Learn of me because I am powerful; he did not say, Learn of me because I am glorious. He said, Learn of me because I am humble, for that is something we can imitate.” There is something irresistibly distinctive about humility. “Humility is the refusal to exist outside of God” (Simone Weil). That existence is what Jesus is inviting us to.
He does so by way of meekness, gentleness. Why is gentleness so important? As the Catholic philosopher Louis Lavelle (+1951) explains:
Gentleness is active good will towards other people, not for what they are only, but for what they might be. It enables us to see many possibilities. Gentleness enables us to accept all the laws of our human condition, and in so doing, to rise superior to them. He who revolts against these laws shows how deeply he resents them and is their slave, but he who accepts them in a spirit of gentleness penetrates through them, and fills them with light. Of these laws also it must be said that their yoke is easy and their burden light. True gentleness is so considerate, so tactful, and so active that, when we meet it, we are always astonished that it can do us so much good, while at the same time apparently giving us nothing.
Take my yoke
Why would we ever want to be “yoked”? The word for “yoke” actually shares the same roots as the word for “spouse.” Christ’s invitation Take my yoke upon you is the promise of a singular union, an intimacy, a bonding in love leading to the greatest personal fulfillment and fruitfulness.
But the yoke is not imposed. It is something we freely take upon ourselves.
This light yoke, to which we are not compelled to submit, we must desire, we must accept, through an act of free will unceasingly renewed. The faithful subject themselves in order not to be slaves. They submit in order to remain free (François Mauriac).
Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden light because “he who bears mercy and carries love does not know how to grow weary” (St. Peter Chrysologus), and when God ladens us with his tender mercies, we are “so overwhelmed with his benefits, that we are unable to feel any other burden” (St. Bernard).
What would we do in moments of crisis without these reassuring words of Jesus: You will find rest. St. Bernard puts it all in perspective: “The world cries out, I will disappoint you; the flesh cries out, I will kill you. Christ cries out, I will refresh you. To whom will you go?”