Discipleship at its heart is simply walking with Jesus in the real world and allowing him to teach us moment by moment, step by step. As I reflect on today’s short Gospel reading I’m reminded of three short stories.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…
As the first person from my family to attend Saint Xavier High School and one of only a few students from a now defunct south-end grade school, I was a scared over-weight freshman who felt small, lost, and adrift among the sea of 1500 bodies. In a place as large as St. X it’s not difficult to find yourself sitting or feeling alone in a crowded room. But as the first few days faded into weeks, months, and eventually semesters and years my weary burden relaxed. In the common mission of working with the Ryken Service Club, I found strength for my lonesome burden in covering up windows with humble plastic for Project Warm, staying up all night in Tom Sawyer Park to raise awareness for Invisible Children, and crying with the loss of a family member or friend with the St. Joseph of Arimathea Society. As I exhaled my weary breath I inhaled laughter with friends in theater, at the lunch table, and at sporting events. Those moments of pure joy and excitement that now out shine the moments of difficulty occurred as a result of fellow students and teachers who came to me when I needed them and allowed me to find myself and steady the waters.
…Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls…
It was hot and humid summer’s day and I had spent the last several days working retreats and playing with children at St. Vincent de Paul’s Family Success Center. Covered in sweat and still breathing heavy from the morning, when it came time for lunch I was most excited about the prospect of sitting down in an air conditioned room and resting for a while. With my tray filled with food, I tucked away to a corner of the open-hand kitchen hoping for a few moments of peace. As I helplessly cut into a tough piece of meat with the dull side of a flimsy plastic fork, a group of gregarious men soon filled the remaining seats. My hope for solitude dissolved. As the group laughed while I shoveled macaroni and cheese into my mouth, they soon noticed my meager disposition and invited me into their cohort. Asking why I was here, I responded honestly as I swallowed, “I’m hungry.” Taking note on what they presumed my discomfort in the situation, they switched gears offering a litany of jokes to lighten the mood, and after a few minutes we soon became the loudest table in an already loud room. As lunch continued and trays emptied, the conversation carried on and eventually returned to its original point of origin: my place at the table. Before I could even offer an answer, the men began sharing their stories and offered wisdom about life at St. Vincent de Paul. Without asking they welcomed me into their lives and invited me into their gregarious gang.
…For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Christmas 2011, the weather was cool but my family’s spirits were not. It was the first Christmas without any grandparents. We slept in, skipping Mass and our traditional Christmas Brunch, and neglected to open presents until late in the day. Now that the grandparents were gone, my parents and I felt that so too was the seasonal cheer. With presents unwrapped and cider sipped we nestled under covers and prepared to watch our newly gifted movies, when my mother presented me with one final present, a small unassuming white box, with a handwritten tag, “To: Bobby, From: Papa.” My eyes welled with tears and my heart warmed, the man whom I looked up to all my life, whose plump belly, white beard, and joyous smile was a pure embodiment of the eternal Christmas season, had gifted one final present: his wedding ring. This simple golden band that I wear each day was a symbol of love between him and his wife, and message passed unto me that love is everlasting.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” MT 11:28-30
We so often take the words and message of the Gospel for granted, as they come from a time and place that is distant and unknown. But these words of Jesus can be known to us, for his invitation is simple, “come to me.” And while Jesus is dead and no longer physically alive, he is however walking with us in the real world in each person we encounter daily.
So often the thing we see in others is our own struggle. The quality that annoys us about another person is the same quality that we are fearful we embody. The wound we witness is the same wound we bear and the same band-aid we wish to share. The laughter we provide to others is the same humor we desire. The hugs we share are the same embrace we need in times of care. The students and teachers, who walked with me when I was at St. X, knew my lonesome burden because they too had been the stranger in the crowd and wished to provide for me the familial face I needed. The men at the open-hand kitchen recognized my tired disposition because they recognize that in themselves, and therefore offered the support of laughter to recharge my spirit. My grandfather recognized the eternal power of love and longing for connection and offered a final reminder to comfort the same pain he had felt when his wife died.
Jesus is no longer with us, but we are invited to allow him to come alive in our hearts. Each day, and especially during Advent, we are gifted with people who can share our yoke. The more people that we allow to walk with us along our journey and the more stories that we can learn from, offer us moments of grace when we can find rest in the humble hearts of other. As we encounter the student, the teacher, the homeless, the stranger, and the friend, we are encountering Jesus a person whose life provides a mirror for us to see our own realities and whose example provides a window revealing our limitless potential.
May we continue to come to others who are weary and may we continue to provide a space for others to aid our burdens. For it is in our shared humanity that we humble our hearts and find gentle rest for our souls.