Come to me all you who are heavy burdened…..
It really helps when preparing a homily if the readings are relevant! And yes, today, many people are heavy burdened – by fear, financial insecurity, loneliness and grief. While some societies creep back towards what once felt normal, others feel abandoned as the pandemic sweeps on. Here in the Philippines, as everywhere in the world, poor people carry the heaviest burdens. Isolation and physical distancing are impossible when a wall of cardboard or torn plastic separates a family of eight in one room from their neighbours. In every country people feel weighed down. Circumstances vary, but our encounter with Corona virus and its unimaginable death toll has rammed home to us that we are interconnected, interdependent, and not controllers of the earth.
And I wonder if you, like me, feel this pandemic is even more overwhelming because it is happening in our current context? The ferocity of bushfires, droughts, floods, typhoons and melting ice-caps warn us that we face a challenge that no vaccine can conquer. Frankly, climate change is deeply scary. Young people urge us to rethink our way of living, to recognize that we belong to Mother Earth, she is not ours to plunder. Theologians tell us that the extinction of every species destroys another small revelation of God. This Corona ‘pause button’ that shut down our world, demands we recognize our interconnectedness, we rethink priorities, allow our hearts, minds and actions to be changed.
I find it hard not to feel powerless and overwhelmed, and it is from that place that I have meditated on these readings. The prophet Zechariah, writing about 500 years before Jesus, encouraged his people who felt overwhelmed with the huge task of rebuilding the Temple. He promised a new style of leader, riding on a donkey (not an army tank!), using his power in humility and simplicity to bring peace to the whole earth. We might look around the world and say “if only we had that kind of leader today!” But we can all be leaders in small ways, choosing simplicity, working for peace. In the second reading St Paul assures us that we have the Spirit of the risen Christ who helps us to choose well, to put to death expectations and actions that are self-centered.
But it’s our Gospel text that speaks most strongly. “Come to me you who are heavy burdened …” This reading shows us that Matthew’s community was pondering the rich Wisdom tradition in the Hebrew scriptures. These Wisdom books were written in the last few centuries before the birth of Jesus, and they talk about God using female imagery, and see Her as guiding them in their journey across the desert, welcoming people to the banquet, as meeting them in their daily lives, sitting with them at the city gates, offering them hope, sharing their burdens. Wisdom (Sophia in Greek) is the way they named God as they encountered Her in the struggles of everyday life. Her message of hope calls human beings to a new way of living.
Like us, the early Christians had good reason to feel overwhelmed: they thought their dream ended when Jesus was brutally murdered by the religious and political authorities. But the women and men who followed him, after initial turmoil and bereavement, experienced that the God of love and compassion, the One at the heart of all Jesus’ teaching, had worked something beyond anyone’s imagining. Jesus’ death was not the end. They came to realize that this man Jesus who their friend, shared their burdens, celebrated many meals and feasts with them, taught with such wisdom, was more than just a teacher, he was, in a very deep sense, God present with them. The Wisdom texts would have helped them make sense of such a possibility.
A few years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, St. Paul called Jesus the ‘Wisdom of God’ and in these verses, Matthew’s community placed Wisdom’s words on Jesus’ lips, so that Jesus claims Wisdom’s role as his own. God’s Wisdom would be with them. They found their burden was shared and not heavy. Strengthened by the Spirit, they dared go forward, as a community, bound by hope.
“Come to me… for I am meek and humble of heart...” Meekness and humility do not get good press in the economic or political world. Yet humility is owning the truth about who we are: gifted yet weak, loved yet failing. With such honest self-knowledge change is possible. As individuals, families and societies can we consider the small things each one of us can do, as well as the bigger things we must work for in collaboration with all people of good will? For example, some might find that two months of non-shopping enables them to contribute to groups advocating climate awareness. Others might help build peace through Caritas International or Medecins Sans Frontiers or by helping out in their local Vincent de Paul centre. Some others, like me, might find that one step is working to get a rat-proof compost system to reduce their rubbish to the tip! We can all take time to appreciate the beauty in nature and allow it to convert our hearts.
Today’s readings challenge us. Can we have the humility to come as “little ones”, asking Wisdom to help us to understand, to change, to live in a new way? Can we let go of some good things to a allow a greater good to emerge? As with the early women and men who followed Jesus, Wisdom is offering to help carry our burden. Jesus’ yoke is like an arm around our shoulders, a wonderful companion at our side, sharing the burden. Do we dare allow hope into our hearts, as Wisdom calls us to move beyond our confusion and grief, to listen and change?
Christine Elisabeth Burke, IBVM
Christine Elisabeth Burke, IBVM
Christine Burke IBVM (Loreto) lives in Quezon City, Philippines. She was engaged for many years in various aspects of adult faith education in the archdiocese of Adelaide, Australia. Her Ph.D. asked how the Christian tradition could speak more relevantly to a secular society. In the 1990s, Christine pioneered the Church Ministry Program at Catholic Theological College in Adelaide, helping form lay pastoral leaders for parishes. As a feminist theologian, Christine is interested in ways of helping people connect daily life with the Gospel and explore new possibilities for our Church. From 2005-11, Christine was province leader for the IBVM sisters in Australia, Vietnam and East Timor. Christine moved to the Philippines in late 2013 to begin a House of Studies for younger sisters from the province. Christine and a group of Congregation of Jesus sisters from Korea and China, have pioneered a shared community in Manila. Because of opportunities she has been given to study the life and spirituality of Mary Ward, the founder of CJ and IBVM, Christine has given lectures on Mary Ward in Korea (2014), Zimbabwe (2015), India (2015) and Kenya (2018), as well as earlier lectures in Australia. She is currently giving a seminar course at Maryhill School of Theology on Feminist Theology and Spirituality and supervises some post-graduate students.
Christine has published “Freedom Justice and Sincerity: reflections on the life and spirituality of Mary Ward” and “The gift of Mary Ward”, as well as an earlier volume “Through a woman’s Eyes” which presented meditations and feminist insights into Gospel stories.
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