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HE AIN’T HEAVY; HE’S MY BROTHER

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Homily for Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent, 07 Dec 2022, Memorial of St. Ambrose, Mt 11:28-30

Jesus said, “I will give you rest.” If Jesus had said that in Hebrew, he would have said “I will give you Shabat.” That’s the Hebrew word for REST, which is the origin of the word Sabbath, the day of rest for the Jewish people.

It is the third of the ten commandments, which says, in Exodus 20:8, “Remember to keep holy the day of rest (Sabbath).” It is supposed to be their official day-off, and the no-work rule is supposed to apply to all, including slaves and animals and migrant workers. The reason for this is given in v.11 of Exod 20, namely, that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day, to bless it and keep it holy. As creatures in God’s image and likeness, we must therefore rest as God did—on the seventh day. Until this day and age, law-abiding Jews stop working on Saturdays and are expected to go to the synagogue, to gather together, to listen to the Scriptures and meditate on them.

In today’s Gospel, I have a feeling that Jesus is taking a swipe at both the Pharisees and some former disciples of John the Baptist who were not fond of Jesus. Remember that passage where both groups questioned Jesus for not fasting as often as they did (Mt 9:14)? Remember also that passage where Jesus describes the Pharisees as people who “tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders, but (they) will not lift a finger to move them.” (Mt 23:4)?

Jesus actually associated with both the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist, but did not share either in the extremely ascetic life of John nor the obsession of the Pharisees with laws. I think he wanted to remind them that the Spirit of the Sabbath law was not just to take a rest but to give REST to people engaged in hard labor. That the Sabbath was not meant to make their already difficult lives even more difficult or miserable.

God did not create us to be miserable. People who are miserable will tend to make other people miserable. That must be the point of the saying “Misery loves company.”

For Jesus, the opposite of miserable is not just HAPPY but JOYFUL. Joy is more than happiness. Joyful people are the type who will not feel miserable during unhappy times. They can do hard labor without feeling burdened because they carry out their responsibilities with an inner sense of meaning and purpose.

Make no mistake about it; Jesus is not promising an easy life. In fact, what he is offering is a YOKE. But it comes with a secret—namely, how to carry it without being burdened by it.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is speaking like the GURU who teaches his disciples to learn from him WHAT IT REALLY MEANS TO REST, what Sabbath is really about. It’s not about a life without responsibilities. It’s not just about ABSTAINING FROM WORK, but keeping holy one’s day of rest. It is about listening to God’s Word so that we learn to carry life’s burdens with gentleness and humility of heart.

There is a song inspired by the story of a young boy who was carrying a handicapped child on his back. He was almost about as big as the child on his back, but he was carrying him with a smile on his face. Apparently, a priest said to him, “How do you manage to carry that big boy? Don’t you find him heavy?” And the boy answered, still smiling, “He ain’t heavy; he’s my brother.”

Matthew must have imagined Jesus saying the same thing to us about the cross as he carried it all the way to Calvary: “It ain’t heavy; it’s for love of you.”

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Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

President of Radio Veritas

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