Year A 14th Sunday 2017: Armidale
"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother". These words were made famous in the 1969 hit song by the Hollies. But the words are older than that. In the 1940’s "He ain't heavy, Father, he's my brother", was taken as a slogan for the famous Boys Town children's home by its Catholic priest founder, Father Edward Flanagan. But it seems the origin of the saying goes back to Scotland in 1884, to a book called The Parables of Jesus which tells the story of a little girl carrying as best she could a big baby boy almost as big as herself. Seeing her struggling, a bystander remarked to her how heavy he must be and asked her if she was tired. The little girl replied, "No, he's not heavy; he's my brother."
This story suggests the heaviness of the burden we feel when carrying a load seems to depend on two things: what we are carrying and why we are carrying it. So, what am I carrying? And why am I carrying it? What worries and burdens are weighing me down: money worries; family problems; work or study; illness; relationships; sin; or addiction and its consequences?
Our Lord Jesus was very interested in lightening our burden. In fact, he criticized the Pharisees for not doing so: “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people's shoulders” he said, “but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them” (Mt 23:4). And today we hear his beautiful words which we all love: “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
Jesus here is not simply offering to lighten our burden, nor is he offering to make our life completely burden-free. No, I think Jesus here may be offering to swap burdens with us. Having told us that he will give us rest from our burden he then tells us to shoulder his yoke; his burden. It’s as if Jesus is saying: “Take off your burden and give it to me, and here take mine instead.”
That Jesus takes our burden upon himself is clear. We read in the song of the Suffering Servant in the Book of Isaiah (53:4-5): “Ours were the infirmities he bore, ours were the sufferings he endured … he was wounded for our sins, he was crushed for our wickedness.” And in the First Letter of St Peter (2:24) we read: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, …. by his wounds you have been healed.” These are burdens that I am certainly happy to give him.
But am I happy to take the burden Jesus asks us to swap for? And what is his easy yoke and light burden that he wants us to shoulder and carry? I believe it’s this: The Father’s Will. To be open to accepting, welcoming, and loving God’s plan for me and whatever his divine providence sends my way today. This was Jesus’ sweet yoke: As he once said, “My food is to do the will of my Father who sent me.” To accept the will of God is the sweet yoke and light burden that has given rest and peace to the soul of every single person who has ever accepted it. I think of Jesus’ mother Mary who said, “Be it done unto me according to thy Word”, and Saint Mary Mackillop of the Cross who once wrote “Oh, I cannot tell you what a beautiful thing the will of God seems to me.”
A few Friday’s ago we celebrated the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In his private revelations to Saint Margaret Mary Jesus explained that the essence of consecration to his most sacred heart consists in doing a swap with him. He said, “You take care of my honour and my interests, and my heart will take care of you and your interests.” Will we not make this pact, this swap with Jesus in which we clearly come out ahead?” (From Personal Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, little red booklet)
We have to be careful to not just hear Jesus’ words as being all about me having my burden lightened. In imitation of Jesus Christ whose name we bear as Christians, we too should seek to ease each other’s burdens. In his letter to the Galatians (6:2) Saint Paul says, “Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” We all have to put up with things in other people that annoy us. There imperfections can drive us mad if we let them. But only the most arrogant and proud of us would think that other people don’t have just as much to put up with from us too!
Because we are all sinners and all imperfect, we all have to bear with one another. So let us avoid causing unnecessary worry to others; let us help people to bear the worries they already have, to carry the burdens that life itself imposes on them. Let us look for opportunities to make ourselves useful and to lighten the burden of others. And Let us bring others to Jesus so that he may relieve them of their burdens and sins and give them rest for their souls.
The young Scottish girl probably didn’t have to carry her baby brother who was nearly as big as her. No, she chose to carry him. Most probably, she was trying to ease his burden whatever it was: Maybe he was tired; maybe he had stubbed his toe; maybe he was afraid. Whatever it was, he wasn’t heavy because he was her brother, and she loved him. Whatever the yoke Jesus asks me to shoulder, whatever is God’s will for me, it won’t be too heavy because he is my Father and he loves me.