“Come to me, all you who labor and find life a burden, and I will refresh you.”
There is much in the world that beckons to us in our weakest moments. “Try this brand of alcohol and everything will be fine.” “These clothes will give your life meaning.” “This car will tell the world you are somebody.” “These drugs will drown your sorrows and make you feel right with the world again.”
But it is lie upon disruptive lie. Clothing styles and automobiles change, alcohol in excess clouds the senses, and drugs kill. How are we to handle the stresses of life, the pressures that none of us can escape? We do so by listening to that voice that beckons us to “Come to me.”
“Shoulder my yoke and learn from me,” Jesus tells us. Not many of us are familiar with oxen and yokes, so the image needs some clarification. On the farm, if you had a young ox you were training, you would yoke them to an older, more experienced animal. That way, when the younger ox wanted to zoom ahead, the older ox would hold them back, teaching him to pace himself and preserve his energy for the long haul. And if the younger ox wanted to “slack off” the elder animal would keep him going so the job would be completed.
If you and I come to Jesus so as to be refreshed and renewed, we will be greeted with the offer…of a yoke, a yoke offered by one who is “gentle and humble of heart.” Yoked to Jesus, side by side, we will be able to, in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “run and not grow weary, walk and never tire.” But you have to be willing to surrender, to give in, not from a defeated “cry uncle” mindset, but the mindset of one who trusts in one whose “yoke is easy” and whose “burden light.”
Jesus loves you. Jesus desires you, passionately. Jesus wants to be with you and you to be with him. The choice is yours. Are you going to sell your very self to follow the voice of all that is shallow and passing, or are you going to find yourself in the one who is the way, the truth and the life?
Matthew 12: 46-50
“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers and sisters?”
“Who am I?” It is a question each of us asks at one time or another. Who is the person that peers back at me from the mirror? Who is that individual that makes their way among the mass of humanity? The entire Bible, in one way or another, tries to answer these nagging questions. Jesus gives a very clear answer. When you and I try every day to do the will of our Heavenly Father, to walk with him, to be open and even vulnerable to his movement in our lives, then we receive our identity, a new, most profound identity. We become brothers and sisters of Jesus, the sister or brother of the Son of the Living God.
But Jesus takes it one step further. Anyone who strives to do the will of God becomes Jesus’ mother. A heart united to God, a heart and mind trying every moment of every day to be one with Love itself, births Jesus into the world just as surely as Mary of Nazareth gave him birth in Bethlehem. And notice, Jesus makes no distinctions, never saying that only those who are the right color or gender or sexual orientation are worthy of such a designation.
So, we gay, lesbian and transgender folk, if we take God by the hand (or as St. Therese of Lisieux suggested, if we take him by his heart) and walk with him in trust and abandonment and love, we unlikely characters mother Jesus and brother him and sister him to a world that sees us, through blinded eyes, as damaged goods. Yet Jesus, who has called us, sees us with the fiery eyes of passionate love and declares, for all to hear, “Here are my mother and my brothers and my sisters.”
Everyone likes a good story. That is why we go to movies and plays and the opera. That is why bookstores open their doors. Stories can help us escape life and lose ourselves. But they can also teach and bring us light.
Jesus told stories, earthy stories filled with everyday images: sowers, seeds, plants, fish and fishing nets, yeast, among other things. These stories are easily remembered and passed on, and their subject matter helps us to see that God’s presence permeates all of creation. The whole created world is, itself, a book about God. Take yeast for example.
Matthew 13:33 describes the kingdom of God as yeast. Now, when we think of yeast we imagine loaves of warm bread, fresh from the oven. But yeast was seen as a corrupting agent. That is why, at Passover, all yeast was removed from the house. God corrupts? Well, that may be rather strong. Let us say that God’s presence “changes” things. God changes all those who open the door of their hearts to let him in. God, who is love and life itself, raises our life from the mundane and dull into something that is rich and flavorful.
But God does not force change or growth on anyone. He stands and “knocks” on the door of our hearts and lives, he does not smash it down and drag us kicking and screaming into the kingdom. He respects us too much for that. We must desire to be yeast. But first we must allow the yeast of the gospel to “get a rise out of us” so that we, in turn may help make the world, in the words of Dorothy Day, “a place where it is easy for people to be good.”
“Courage! It’s me! Don’t be afraid.” Search the gospels and this injunction to not be afraid is voiced by Jesus in a number of ways. Why should such a remark take primacy over others? Perhaps because fear can lead to spiritual death faster than anything else. It may be that fear in all its forms is the foundation of spiritual death.
Fear freezes us. Fear blinds and deafens us. It paralyzes us into inactivity or freezes us into crippling ways of behaving. Fear keeps us from being God’s daughters and sons because, when we are afraid, we cannot hear God’s voice above the din that threatens to engulf us, and so we forget who we really are.
The apostles are being tossed about on the lake when Jesus walks toward them on the waves. Peter, always speaking first and thinking later, challenges the image of Jesus before him and is encouraged to join him above the churning water. And he did; he did walk on the water… until he took his eyes off the one the called him. But Jesus did not let him drown so as to teach him a lesson. Instead he “put his hand out at once and held him” and gently chides him for his lack of faith.
It is not easy being gay. It is an added burden to be a gay Christian. “Normal” Christians are too busy warming up their Bibles so as to be ready to beat us with them. And our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers, who have already been pummeled enough by the “soldiers of Christ” are often not open to hearing from the lips of their own kind what has been too often fashioned into a hurtful message. These waves of rejection, as well as the suffering that comes from the everyday human condition, could easily cause us to fear speaking out, fear speaking the name of Jesus in truth and love, fear of trusting him, and so make ourselves vulnerable once more to misunderstanding and prejudice.
Yet we must never forget who it is that has called us and is not ashamed to walk with his gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, fully God and fully human, is our brother, lover, our teacher, our savior. He has proven his love for us with a contract, a contract written in his blood, upon his flesh, using nails and whips and thorns. There is no storm greater than the hurricane of his undying love and mercy and compassion, which is not only for a few, but for any and all who are willing to look him in the eye…and step out of the boat.
I make no apologies. I love the Canaanite woman! I admire her spirit, her tenacity, her guts and her courage!
She, who has no recorded name, is like us in many ways. She is a despised outsider, a nameless woman searching to find healing and wholeness. She comes to find Jesus the rabbi because she has heard he could help her tormented little daughter. Yet, Rabbi Jesus seems to be like all the rest, telling her to go her way, much in the same way the hurtful words of priests and ministers, speaking in Jesus’ name give the impression that Jesus simply does not care and, in fact, hates the queers who cry out to him!
But she hangs in there. In a verbal sparing match, she does not give in. She will not be easily turned aside and once more sit and watch her beloved daughter suffer the torments of hell. And because her faith is so great, so strong and immovable, I can see Jesus smile at her courage as he rewards her trust with a healing for her needy child.
How is your faith these days? Aside from the ups and downs common to us all, do you “hang in there” when it seems Jesus is on vacation? Do you remember the cross, and the love of him who hung upon it, and recall that it was done out of a deeply intimate love for you?
We grow in faith and trust, and all growth is slow, almost imperceptible. But our growth into Christians is not done alone, for Jesus is with us every step along our journey through life. If we remember this, if we clutch this truth to our hearts, then we, too, will merit hearing from the lips of our Beloved what our Canaanite sister heard “You have great faith. Let your desire be granted.”
Tom Yeshua is the pen name of Thomas E.L. Cloutier OFS, a transitional deacon who taught theology for 30 years at Nashua (N.H.) Catholic Regional Junior High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Don Bosco College in Newton, N.J., and a master’s in divinity and theology from St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass.