Gospel reflection for July 9, 2023 – 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Father Koch: Discipleship is the invitation to take on Jesus’ burdens
While we often hear that Jesus prays, we seldom hear how he prays or the context of that prayer. He teaches his disciples to pray -- the Our Father -- but aside from that, the prayer we hear Jesus speak here is the only specific prayer of Jesus in the synoptic tradition. John records a lengthy prayer of Jesus at the conclusion of the Last Supper, but that prayer serves a different purpose than this one.
The prayer that Jesus speaks here is very much a Jewish prayer, with this one reflecting a prayer found in the Old Testament Book of Sirach.
Jesus expresses gratitude to the father -- “I give you thanks” he says -- for the disciples, the so-called “little ones” to whom the father has revealed the mysteries of the coming of the Kingdom.
There is a clear father-son relationship expressed in these prayers, and this prayer does reflect that sense of intimacy and trust between the father and the son.
This prayer builds upon the intimacy of the Son to his disciples. Jesus reveals the father -- he is the agent of the father -- but he only reveals the father to those who are disposed to receive the revelation; those to whom the son wishes to reveal the father.
This revelation does not; however, come all at once. The son gradually reveals the father, so that the “little ones” can take it in and understand it. Revelation is by-and-large an unfolding ad not a dramatic singular event.
The invitation to be a disciple of Jesus comes with a promise and a call. The Lord extends rest to those who follow him. Rest from their cares and burdens, yes; rest from the demands of discipleship, no.
Perhaps it is with some irony that the demands made on the disciples becomes greater -- the Lord says here: 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."
What is this yoke the Lord asks his disciples to carry?
We know that yoking animals makes the task for each of them easier. It requires working in tandem and relying on a sense of shared strength and responsibility. Most of the burdens of our lives become easier when they are equally shared with another who is deeply committed to and capable of handling the task at hand.
St. Cyril of Alexandria commented: “Draw near to me so that you may become sharers of the divine nature and partakers of the Holy Spirit. Jesus called everyone, not only the people of Israel. As the Maker and Lord of all, he spoke to the weary Jews who did not have the strength to bear the yoke of the Law. He spoke to idolaters heavy laden and oppressed by the devil and weighed down by the multitude of their sins.”
What is the word he speaks to us -- those of us who are walking the path of discipleship yet, nonetheless, feel burdened by the life of discipleship in the world.
We are being called to set aside our distractions, concerns for financial well-being, popularity, and worldly success. These be our personal burdens, foisted upon us, leading us to despair in the midst of what ought to be, not a life of leisure, but a life of discipleship where we carry the burdens of Christ with us, knowing that he carries it with us.
It is not easy -- it does mean giving up the desire to control, to live our lives solely -- or at least primarily -- on our own terms.
It is here that the call to discipleship, as well as the call to priestly ministry and religious life, begins. Until we can allow the Lord to foist his burden upon us, we will end up fighting against the goad, carrying our burden alone.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.