July 5; 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time; Year A

14th OT2 19 20Yoked to Christ

Many of you must be really relieved to be back in Church after such a long break. For some priests, it’s back to work after a long rest. But for others, like me, there has been “no rest for the wicked.” Whichever category you may fall under, it is good to hear our Lord’s words in today’s gospel, “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.”

You are privileged to be the first batch of Catholics to return to our first public Mass in this parish. But with this privilege comes a heavy responsibility. You are here because you have agreed to be on duty to serve the rest of the community when they return in the following weeks.

Now being on duty, seems to be anything but restful. In fact, it seems to go against the obligation to rest from servile work on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. This is what the Code of Canon Law says, “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to assist at Mass. They are also to abstain from such work or business that would inhibit the worship to be given to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, or the due relaxation of mind and body” (canon 1247). But assisting others to worship at Holy Mass does not violate this Law because at Mass your work is to worship God, and you are never called to rest from worshiping God.

The key to understanding this rest, is the Hebrew word sabat, which means "to rest or stop or cease from work." The origin of the Sabbath goes back to Creation. After creating the heavens and the earth in six days, God "rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made". God used the example of His resting on the seventh day of Creation, to establish the principle of the Sabbath day rest for His people. God gave the Israelites the fourth Commandment (third commandment in the Catholic enumeration). They were to "remember" the Sabbath day and "keep it holy." One day out of every seven, they were to rest from their labours and give the same day of rest to their servants and animals. This was not just a physical rest, but a cessation of labouring.

With the establishment of the Old Testament Law, the Jews were constantly "labouring" to make themselves righteous before God. Their labours included trying to obey a myriad of do’s and don’ts on the Sabbath. It is interesting to note that the Law was often described in rabbinical teachings as a “yoke”. But what really happened was that this yoke of the Law, which was meant to free them, turned out to be an impossibly heavy burden.

The Law of Moses did not actually bring any relief to the people. This was because it was merely an anticipation of Christ, the One who came to fulfill the Law, the Only One who could truly bring peace and rest to all. Because of what He did on the cross, we no longer have to "labour" in keeping the Mosaic Law in order to be justified in the sight of God. We can now cease from all our futile spiritual labours and rest in Him, not just one day a week, but always. And because Jesus, our Lord, is the Only One who can give us lasting rest, the day in the week in which we commemorate His resurrection, which Christians over the centuries have called “the Day of the Lord”, is now our new Christian Sabbath.

So, how can we experience this lasting rest? What our Lord proposes seems strange - we need to shoulder His yoke in order to find rest. A yoke was not created for rest; it was created for work. It literally has nothing to do with rest at all. When Jesus invited the weary and heavy laden to come to Him and find rest, we would expect Him to say something like, “Take off the yoke - be free!” But our Lord’s solution for weariness was not to cast off the yoke; but rather to yoke ourselves to Him, to walk in step with Him. Those who were under the Mosaic Law were said to be yoked to Moses. Likewise, those who call themselves Christians, should be similarly yoked to Christ. To be yoked to Him means to submit to His authority. Instead of being crushed by His authority, Christ offers us freedom and rest. This is a different kind of yoke, one perfectly fitted to support us. When we are yoked to Christ, He carries most of the weight. That doesn’t mean being yoked to Christ will always be comfortable, but it’s not supposed to crush us either. His yoke ultimately points to the cross. The cross will demand self-denial but it also promises salvation.

As we gradually return to our churches, let us reclaim Sunday as a day set aside for the Lord. Throughout the week, we strive, we work hard to achieve our goals, but on this special day, when our Lord ended His three days of rest in the tomb, we are asked to place all our burdens, cares and struggles at His feet. We are called to rest because God continues to work even when man ceases to do so. So, if you are feeling restless, distraught, discouraged or even perhaps at the edge of despair, put your shoulder into His yoke, so that He might bear all your burdens. Learn to walk yoked to our Lord, and you will find rest for your soul. This is His promise. “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.”