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This article was published in The Journal, January 2003.

En route for Rome 2003 

From a homily given by Fr René Beaupère OP to the Preproma committee meeting at the Centre St Irénée, Lyon, 7 July 2002; the Gospel of the day was Matthew 11:25-30.

These three sentences have been put together by the author. In the first Jesus rejoices and gives thanks. How strange to rejoice in his own failure in respect of the Jewish intelligentsia – the ‘wise and understanding’ of our text. But his joy is justified by his success with the ‘babes’, the little ones open to receive his message. The next phrase could have come from John, on the relationship between the Father and the Son. And the Son can make known the Father to those whom he chooses – and we are included. The first two sentences are found in Luke’s Gospel too; the third is only in Matthew. Weary and over-burdened people are called to rest – but is it really to rest, if they are called to wear a yoke!

There seems to be a link between these three apparently diverse sayings of Jesus. They are all addressed to the little ones, and by one who presents himself to us as little too, not as a teacher, a professor, a rabbi, but as one who is gentle and whose heart is humble. 

Let us look a little more closely before we see what this message might mean for Rome 2003. It was not that Jesus was more naturally sympathetic, closer to the little ones than to the elite. But in his experience of failure with the latter and success with the former, Jesus understood how this corresponded with the work that he was doing in his Father’s service. 

In our final verses Jesus is not speaking to all the little ones, but picking out especially those who are tired out by the burdens they carry, feeling their strength ebbing away. In this context I do not think that Jesus is just speaking of the general burdens of life, but rather of Jewish legalism. He is criticising a religious attitude that imposes a moral discipline systematically and mechanically without making known, with it, the joy of salvation.

The call to ‘Come to me’ is full of joy, urgent and personalised. We move from obedience to the law (to whatever degree it may be internalised) to a personal meeting. 

A yoke that lightens the burden
But ‘come to him’ to receive a yoke to wear? Do not be deceived by the moral overtones that the word ‘yoke’ has acquired. For a yoke allows a burden to be more easily borne by spreading the weight out more widely. 

So what does this mean in the perspective of Rome 2003? 
1. Above all and always to come to Jesus and to come back to him. To turn towards his face. Rather than seeking first to apply rules or law, whether of Sinai or the Beatitudes, Christianity is a religion of persons and faces. Or rather, not a religion but a discovery: travelling with the Brother who leads us to the Father – along with all our brothers and sisters. In a year’s time, at Rocco di Papa, shall we help one another to discover more fully the face of our Risen Lord? 

2. I love the image of the yoke that lightens the burden by spreading it out and sharing it. We know that couples, yoked together, are better able to assume family responsibilities than those – sadly a large number today – who are single parents. Will the days at Rome help couples to share their daily tasks – human and spiritual – and thus joyfully to find them lighter?

3. And couples yoked together lead me of course to think of our dis-united, un-yoked churches. Next July, thanks to the conjunctive tissue of interchurch families, will the churches be able to take a step forward towards the unity that will bring the Gospel to the world?

Let us go forward so resolutely in this perspective, rather than being fixated by the yokes that legalists impose on us, or which we think they impose, that there will be a turning again, a conversion towards the face of Jesus present among us.

Come to me
We are weary; the ecumenical road seems interminable; we are worn out by the rules that weigh us down. But Jesus calls: ‘Come to me’. We may not immediately discover that all is joy, but we shall come to understand, like Georges Bernanos’ country priest, that all is grace. And that this grace can and must shine in the world through the life of the mystical Body of which we are all members, Christ being the head, and also, if I may say so, the heart. 

This article was published in The Journal, January 2003.