But Moses said to God, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" God also said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you': This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.
Go and assemble the elders of Israel, and say to them, 'The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying: I have given heed to you and to what has been done to you in Egypt. I declare that I will bring you up out of the misery of Egypt, to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.' They will listen to your voice; and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, 'The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; let us now go a three days' journey into the desert, so that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.' I know, however, that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all my wonders that I will perform in it; after that he will let you go.
Jesus exclaimed "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
The long night of slavery in Egypt is coming to an end and Israel is about to be liberated into a new and better existence, a new life in their own land. Moses is to assemble the elders of Israel and tell them of God's concern for their plight. The people of Israel will not simply be liberated, but the living God will be always with them, into the future. The divine name, Yahweh, derives from the Hebrew verb "to be" and suggests that GOD will be continuously with his people. We might say that the very name "Yahweh" contains this promise "I will be always there", but when spoken by Israel or by ourselves, it is a prayer ("Please be there at all times with us").
Jesus underlines this aspect of God in today's classic text which ought to be memorized. By his intimate relationship with us, he makes our yoke easy and our burden light. He is conscious that life can be weary and burdensome, yet does not make any false, easy promises. The yoke will remain, as will the burden, but with his help they become easy and light. The difference is made by the presence of Jesus who is "gentle and humble of heart." The God who is with us always, promising ultimate peace at the end, is a gentle and loving Lord.
Today on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel we recall with admiration the contemplative Carmelite nuns, whose lives are dedicated to prayer and study, and to listening to the problems and dilemmas of the many people who come to them asking for their prayers and spiritual advice.
We can find ourselves burdened for all kinds of reasons: overtired; overworked; an important relationship going wrong; a struggle with ill health. In the gospel, Jesus addresses his words to those who felt burdened by the demands of the Jewish Law; for in failing to meet them they felt themselves to be on the margins. To such people, Jesus does not offer a new law. Rather, he offers them himself; he calls them and all of us into a personal relationship with himself. "Come to me," he says, "learn from me." We are to come to him and learn from him; he is a teacher whose teaching is visible in his person, in who he is and how he lives. To learn from someone, we need to be around them over time. In saying, "Come," Jesus is really saying, "Come and remain." We are called into an ongoing relationship with the Lord. It is in and through that relationship that we learn to live as he calls us to live, as he wants us to live. We live out of our relationship with him, or more fundamentally, out of his relationship with us, because it is he who initiates that relationship, it is he who keeps on saying to us "Come." He promises us that if we come to him and remain with him, we will discover that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Yes, his way of life is demanding, but his relationship with us and ours with him makes it much less demanding than it would otherwise be. As Saint Paul assures us, "his power at work within us is able to accomplish immeasurably far more than all we can ask or imagine." It is by remaining in Jesus, as branches in the vine that our lives will bear much fruit.
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