July 5, 2020
A nearby family is being forced to move out of the apartment they’ve rented for more than a decade. Their search for a new home is filled with obstacles. For example, unlike before, prospective renters must now have a Social Security number, and one person in the household must have a full-time job. In this family, three of the four members are employed, but non full-time. And their IRS ID numbers are not acceptable. Yet more barriers to another family of color in our city.
Another nearby family had their rent come due this last week, but because of the pandemic, and subsequent job losses, they didn’t have the money. They are very much afraid of being evicted. She works a couple of days a week, at minimum wage, in a large box store, and is always hoping for an extra shift or two. But since COVID, she’s lucky to keep her regular shifts. He lost his job, what, two months ago now? Finally, just last week, the box store hired him too. But his first paycheck is still a week or two out. How to pay the rent . . . and make the car payment, and the power bill, let alone put food on the table.
The burdens these families carry are anything but light, and unfortunately all too common in our neighborhood: economic stress, inferior education, extraordinary health risks, both subtle and blatant racial discrimination. Their yoke is oppressive and unrelenting.
When Jesus promises rest and an easy yoke in today’s gospel, it is as if he knows precisely how such burdens feel.
Let’s take a brief look at today’s readings from the prophet Zechariah and the Gospel of Matthew.
First, this analogy. Imagine the person, man or woman, who just landed a terrific business deal, was victorious over their competitor, and made millions for themselves and their company. And imagine that this person has always craved a sleek expensive sports car, and now can get it and can flaunt their success. Think of the impression on the neighbors their grand entrance will make when pulling into the driveway for the first time!
This is just how kings, dictators, despots, and conquering leaders have behaved since, well, Old Testament times.
By contrast, the prophet Zechariah tells us of a Savior who rides in on a donkey signifying peace and humility. And his words are familiar to us because they were later applied to Jesus.
See, your king shall come to you;
a just savior is he,
meek, and riding on an ass, . . .
and he shall proclaim peace to the nations.
And this king, this savior, full of humility, beckons each one of us:
“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.”
But what is the easy yoke that Jesus offers? Just how can he lighten the burden? As I see it, the only way Jesus’ promises can be fulfilled is through us. We must shoulder some of the load. Since the pandemic hit, how many times have you heard or read the slogan, “We’re all in this together.” That’s sort of what I’m talking about.
But when it comes to racial inequality and racial justice, are we touting the same slogan? “We’re all in this . . . together!” I am quite sure that is not how people of color see it. And I am certain that’s not how the two families I mentioned earlier see it.
You see, many of us have this invisible package of unearned assets that we can cash in on every day to make our lives easier, and our burdens lighter, all the while remaining oblivious to them. Others don’t get the package and their burdens are heavy and their yoke is oppressive. And then some of us wonder why can’t they succeed, why can’t they do better?
What do I mean by this package of unearned assets? Let me give you a few examples.
The families I mentioned earlier certainly don’t have the package. And many persons and families of our parish don’t have the package.
We have to figure out how to share the assets and bring everyone under the umbrella of these benefits. The first step is to be aware of them, and aware if you have them. It’s not bad if have these assets. It’s only bad if you fail to share them. In so doing, you will begin to lighten their burdens and ease their yoke of oppression.
And what about the rest that Jesus offers? “I will give you rest.” I don’t think it means simply less work and more sleep. Sorry. Rather rest happens with alignment, meaning we align the work we do in the world with the work God is doing in the world. St. Augustine said it best, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in Thee.” Rest comes when we live in harmony with ourselves, our neighbor, and God.