'Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.'
Karl Marx famously wrote that religion was the 'sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it was the spirit of a spiritless situation'. At first glance, Jesus' words in the gospel of this Sunday may seem to offer a rather simplistic and strange way to follow. Come to me, all who labour and are oppressed, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke, and you will find rest.
In fact, we would not be far from Marx's view if we were to interpret these words as an invitation to accept our labour and predicament without complaint, as oppressed people accepting everything in the hope of finding the pie in the sky!
So, how could we properly understand these words? Christianity does not invite us to accept any kind of yoke like oppressed creatures. Rather, Christianity is a call to simplicity and authenticity.
Jesus' words are first of all a call to simplicity: as human beings living in society, we build our lives on principles, rules and laws, and we think that this will help us to grow. Yet, these laws and rules are necessary, but their existence cannot lead us to loose sight of the only reason why we need them: to reinforce our love for God and for our neighbours.
What Jesus invites us to discover is to do by love what we have been taught to do by duty, and this is simplicity, because, in this way, our only rule is the Love of God. Too often, however, we fulfil our duties simply by duty, like religious petty bureaucrats without freedom who forget the spirit of our rules and laws. This is precisely the reproach Jesus made to the Pharisees: to lose sight of the centre implies to make things more difficult.
Therefore, against the Pharisees who made the ancient law more oppressive, difficult and heavy, Jesus invites his disciples to take upon themselves his yoke, which is simple and light: the spirit of the law, which is Love. Deeper than the letter, which may seem heavy, lies the Spirit, which invites us in a life of freedom, aware of our boundaries and limits.
Jesus invites us, then, to take his yoke and to be simple by having only rule: his rule of love, hidden to the wise and understanding. Jesus invites us to live in the spirit, and to discern the Spirit behind the letter of the principles of our lives. As Paul reminds us in the second reading,
we are not in the flesh, but we are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in us
Therefore, we are invited today not to make our rules more oppressive, complicated but more accessible, like true children of God. Of course, it does not mean that everything can be done, but rather that we do not have to be fettered by principles only, but bound first and foremost by love for God and our neighbours.
We are invited not to be 'religious petty bureaucrats', who follow punctiliously rules because they have to be followed, but to discern the spirit of love which underlies them. Too often, we are like wise and bright people, unable to discern what is simple and essential in our lives. We focus on details and on the letter of our principles - which can enslave ourselves - rather than on the spirit of the letter, which may set them free.
Jesus' words are therefore a call to authenticity. He invites us to be spontaneous and authentic, with an undivided heart. As the Son knows and is one with the Father, we have to be one in mind and not to have individualist Christianity. Let us learn from their mutual love how to be fully ourselves, without transforming our rules and principles into a fence cutting us off from what we truly are and what we have to do.