A week ago I spent an hour with an old friend of our family, a woman who was in the final stages of life. She was a good friend of my mother, and welcomed me to her house when I was in grade school, and best friends with her son. When Mom was having trouble in years past, her friend would call me, and begin by saying, “I don’t want to interfere, but….” She would share with me her concern over Mom’s declining attention span or other health difficulties. When Mom went to the nursing home, she was a faithful friend. And even though her family was ready for death, and we shared both laughter and tears as we sat together and watched their mom’s labored breathing and unresponsive eyes, there was a sadness—and the only thing we could do is share the burden of the mystery of death.
Everyone has a favorite Bible passage. The Gospel for the 14th Sunday of the Year (A), Matthew 11:25-30, is mine.
“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.”
Perhaps I like this text so much because I’ve felt burdened at times in my life, or have known others who labor greatly under sorrow and suffering. I’ve heard these words addressed to myself, and in turn I’ve shared them with others in homilies at Mass, particularly at funerals.
Part of the power of these words is that Jesus delivers a very personal invitation here. But before he does the inviting, he prays, letting us in on a very personal prayer. The prayer, if you recall, is to the Father. It is—itself—a comforting prayer because it tells us that those with a childlike heart truly understand what God wants to reveal.
In his prayer, Jesus acknowledges his intimacy with his Father. We might do the same, as the grown-up daughter did on Friday at her dying mother’s bedside. Hoping that her Mom could hear her, she expressed that intimacy which mothers and daughters often share. It struck me that the daughter was now returning to the mother all the love she had shared with her children over the years; now it was the daughter’s turn to care in love.
The wonderful thing about Jesus’ prayer is that we are invited to be part of such a loving relationship. To know and be known—as mothers and fathers know their children, and we instinctively understand them—so it can be with the Trinity!
The inviting relationship in Jesus’ very personal prayer gives way to the very personal invitation he extends. That invitation comes in three action steps:
I’m drawn back again to that bedside on Friday. The dying woman has been “Lady Wisdom” for her family, and for me. She taught us well. I could see her children putting into practice what she had taught. They were shouldering the burden of living, even as they embraced their mother’s dying. And it is not her lesson, but the lesson we learn from Jesus. We’ve come to him this morning, and have heard his words and learned from him.