Matthew 11:25-30 | 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
As I read these words in Matthew, I was transported back to the Episcopal Church in Georgia, where I grew up. Every Sunday, between the Eucharistic Prayer and the Peace, the priest would intone, “Hear the word of God to all who truly turn to him,” and recite a number of verses listed in the Book of Common Prayer. One of them was “Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you” (vs. 28). As a child, I thought the Eucharistic Prayer was long and boring and I just wanted the cookies that followed the service. But every Sunday these words, and this verse in particular, permeated my daydreams: “Come…and I will refresh you.”
I was an anxious child and painfully shy. The weight of the world pressed down hard. But when God said all we have to do is “come” and He would take care of it, I took note every single week. (“Refresh” made me think of the lemonade served with the coming cookies, so God’s refreshment seemed miraculously instantaneous.)
As an adult, I know that refreshment isn’t always instantaneous or as automatic as the cookies that followed church every Sunday back then. I may not have had to do anything to get the cookies, but if I had looked up the passage, I would have seen the words that followed, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me” (vs. 29). I wouldn’t have understood that while the extension of God’s yoke is always on offer (like the cookies), I do have to actually accept it. I have to make that choice.
As an adult, I laugh at the words of verse 30, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Nothing about following God is easy. I fight something every step of the way—I fight the world or the Church or sometimes even God. It’s exhausting. (Clearly, I’m now an anxious adult.) I want to do right, but right is not clear. There is no black and white, and I get in the most trouble whenever I try to simplify it to that level.
And so I cycle back to the words of verse 28: “Come…and I will refresh you.” I’m waiting on the lemonade, God… But, of course, lemonade starts with lemons. If I reduce things to black and white, I act like God. I think I am all-wise and all-knowing. However, “no one knows the Father except the Son,” (vs. 27), and I am not Jesus so I can’t really know the mystery of God. In becoming His disciple, I am charged to “learn from” Him, but never do I become Him. Only in accepting my uncertainties and inadequacies, and knowing they won’t go away, am I finally refreshed.
I’m still working on this. I want desperately to “be done” and move on. I want to be the kid for whom the powdered lemonade is instantaneous refreshment. It’s a constant back and forth, a giving up and taking back. Relaxing and accepting and then throwing that back. Then when faced with lemons again, searching for the sugar. God isn’t a powdered mix, and the Real Thing takes time and commitment and learning to recognize an imitation so it can be rejected. The real thing takes choosing the yoke time and again. It may be “easy” but the process is never done.