Homily: Go Gentle

How beautiful Jesus’ words in the Gospel are this week. And yet so hard to trust in them: 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.’

   Great comfort! There is a place to go to when death or loss or suffering descend upon us. Thank God!

   Another very honest viewpoint is given by Dylan Thomas, the poet, who was not wiser than Jesus, but does suggest a different viewpoint. He wrote the following to his dying father: ‘Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ Rage is quite different from the easy, light burden Jesus promises.

   Dylan Thomas was a ragged man who—if rumor is true—drank himself to the death he wrote about. He loved his youth and sang glad song to it, but hunkered down in the shadow of death.

   What would Jesus say? He went through torture and death: surely he should have raged! Yet he says his yoke is light. How to understand such a puzzle?

   Perhaps God does not mean to erase labor and suffering from our lives, not throw them away, but instead means them to be pathways to a solid ground that lies beneath our troubles, to a quiet grounding that is real stillness and rest. What would that solid ground be?

   Jesus seems to say that it is meekness and humility of heart. In the desert Jesus spoke to the devil humbly about food itself, saying that we do not live by bread alone but by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Maybe the only real good in life is rooted firmly in the love that is God. There, meekness and humility have their source.

   “Watch me,” Jesus says, “I am meek, and riding on an ass, Watch me on the sad height of Calvary and see. I have let it all go. Belongings, beloveds, achievements, all. One thing remains and I find my rest in it. Make this thing your life, whatever your sorrow is, whatever is your result of living and of dying and facing troubles. One thing. Love. It will not be heavy—it is the reason why my burden is light.

   If we can begin to let go into the arms of God’s Great Love, if we can give our life away instead of raging, we will know respite from our burdens. We will see how death is actually the ultimate act of giving yourself away. Lets try it out: take our troubles and hand them gratefully to the One who can give us rest.

   “Come to me, all you who are weary.” Let’s listen to this passage as presented from the Message Bible, whose free translation I have come to love so much:   “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

(©John Foley S. J. composer and scholar at Saint Louis University)



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