Jesus invites us:
`Come to me, all you who are weary from carrying heavy loads; I'll give you rest! Take my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble by heart; then you'll find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my load is light.' (Matth. 11:28-30)
Does it pay to wear ourself out because work and responsibility demand our time and energy? If we take our responsibilities seriously, our eyes are soon sharpened so that we notice what is worth doing. As a consequence, the demands upon us grow; at first we grow with the demands, but after a short time, our abilities and our strength reach their limits, and we are no longer able to cope with all the things that should be done. Then we lose our peace of mind, and with it the basis that allows us to act appropriately.
We become devoid of love and begin to neglect people or things that matter; we treat ourselves and others no longer in a way that is good, and we are unhappy about ourselves. Then doubts begin whether our attitude - the readiness to live really responsibly - is the right one; whether we shouldn't rather take the easy road and lower our standards of perfection... And with such thoughts we torture ourselves, we rob ourselves of energies that would be needed for constructive action, and the vicious circle is closed. From time to time we recover since holidays or inspiring events renew our energies, but soon everything repeats again, each time a little more demoralizing than before.
Jesus promises an alternative: Rest for our souls, so that we can act in ways which are good, and use our energies in ways that effective work is done. The yoke Jesus talks about combined the oxen of old time to a team in such a way that the pulling powers of each animal were utilized in an optimal way for the task in question. But a yoke that is not crafted well and does not fit well the neck of the animal causes pain, and a farmer who grinds down his cattle gives them more to carry than they can bear.
Jesus promises us an easy yoke fitted to us with care, and a load that is easy to carry. The load is light since - at least in my personal experience - it creates in us the energy needed to carry it; God is intelligent enough to give those who work for him the means needed to carry out his tasks. And he does so in an organic way, just as he smoothly organized the balance of powers in nature.
Two conditions must be met, Jesus says: The readiness to work for him (to take his yoke) and the will to learn from him. He supports his invitation by pointing to his character, that he is humble and that he is gentle. He is humble, i.e., he is free of desire for power and arbitrary authority, he does not think low of people even though they are not his equal, he does not exploit people though his power would allow it. And he is gentle, caring in the way he treats people, according to their abilities, without arrogance or lack of consideration, neither hurting them nor putting them down. And this way of treating people comes from his heart, not out of cold calculation or as a friendly mask, which would threaten us that we might have to pay dearly for what we accepted too lightly.
This distinguishes God from the devil: The devil's offers are tempting, but when one has accepted, he forces us to pay fully the costs hidden in the offer. As with drugs the entrance is easy and pleasant; then comes the dependence, and only few manage to become free again from the threat of ruin. God demands the full price in advance, but later he surprises us when we notice that what we bought is much more valuable than we had dreamt of.
The price God demands, however, is really high: we have to give up our own souvereignity. Those who want to have God's guidance must submit fully to his authority. If we make compromises in this point we are not really suited for the kingdom of God. We then resemble stubborn asses who are difficult to lead, and our energies wear out in the battle to assert our own will.
On the other hand, we can submit with our heart - and only this is real submission - only if we can trust that this is not to our disatvantage. Thus the crucial question is how much trust we can have in Jesus, to what extend he deserves our trust. Now this trust to rely on Jesus in all situations rarely comes from one moment to the next; usually trust in him grows by living close to him, getting to know him better and better through his word and prayer. At the rate that trust develops, the readiness increases to open ourselves to him and to follow his guidance.
And when we find this experience rewarding, this dynamics gains in momentum and leads to deeper and deeper trust and more and more peace. ``The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took, mixed it with a few pounds of flour, and soon the whole dough was fermented'' (Matth. 13:33).
May the grace of God deepen our faith and give us peace, in the midst of all the demands of our lives.
Arnold Neumaier (Arnold.Neumaier@univie.ac.at)