Care for people who are sick and dying has been part of Christianity from the time of Jesus. The Jewish tradition extends centuries into the past from there. In its rites for Pastoral Care, the Catholic church offers no less than fifty-eight key passages for prayer, reflection, and connection with God.
Tomorrow and the day after, the Lectionary splits up this passage from Saint Matthew’s account of the ministry of Jesus. It is unique to that Gospel, and much-treasured among Christians. It is also a popular selection for funerals, as we blogged here some years ago. At the time of mourning, the message can be comforting to family and friends.
For the seriously ill (or any listener), we get a two-part event. First, we witness a prayer of the Son to the Father:
On one occasion, Jesus spoke thus:
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.
The gospel writer facilitates our glimpse into the intimate relationship between Father and Son. This bond is expressed in terms of “knowing,” but I suspect it goes beyond just knowledge. Our theology informs us that the unity of the Trinity is far beyond human comprehension. Whatever insight we gain is a work of grace, whatever “the Son wishes to reveal.”
And what is this revelation? Specifically this:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
The agricultural metaphor is nearly lost in urban cultures, and even in rural regions where mechanization has left the pair of work animals far behind. Jesus offers to share a yoke. He will be the animal of burden along with our burden. There is a parable–I don’t know the source–of Jesus in his days as a carpenter. He crafted yokes as part of his business. Farmers eagerly sought them as they found the animals that were placed under them did not chafe or get sore. Oxen maintained their spirits, and worked willingly and faithfully. Perhaps their natural instincts were more aligned with grazing and pastoral leisure.
Likewise it is part of the created nature of human beings to dwell in peace and joy with God. But our minds and bodies do falter, and often life devolves into work, trials, and suffering. Jesus remains willing to walk side by side with us. He desires to trade yokes: our worst calamities become his. His burdens turn out to be light and easy for us.
For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.