The way of the righteous is level; O Just One, you make smooth the path of the righteous. In the path of your judgments, O Lord, we wait for you; your name and your renown are the soul's desire. My soul yearns for you in the night, my spirit within me earnestly seeks you. For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.
O Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for indeed, all that we have done, you have done for us. O Lord, in distress they sought you, they poured out a prayer when your chastening was on them. Like a woman with child, who writhes and cries out in her pangs when she is near her time, so were we because of you, O Lord; we were with child, we writhed, but we gave birth only to wind. We have won no victories on earth, and no one is born to inhabit the world.
Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead.
Jesus said to his disciples, "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."
Isaiah's prayer is to a God in whom he still trusts, despite all that has happened in his lifetime to threaten his security and that of his people. Like Ireland in recent years, the Jews experienced betrayal from within and oppression from outside forces. So the prophet prays, "My soul yearns for you in the night, my spirit within me earnestly seeks you." His spirituality is one of waiting for God, trusting that Providence will not fail. He believes in a God who "makes smooth the path of the righteous" and who can therefore be relied upon, no matter what. And so the prophet declares that the darkness is almost over and his people, Israel, is like a pregnant woman about to be delivered of a child. We learn to appreciate God's presence with us best in our time of need.
Jesus reveals this same aspect of God in one of those classic texts which ought to be memorized by all of us. It is, so to speak, the core of his theology. By his intimate relationship with us, God 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.
Jesus often criticized the religious leaders of his day for burdening people by imposing unnecessary demands on them, making the Jewish Law more demanding than it needed to be. In this morning's gospel reading, in contrast, Jesus calls out to those who feel burdened by all sorts of demands that have been made on them and her promises them rest. Jesus calls them into a personal relationship with himself, 'Come to me... learn from me', he says. Rather than giving them a new set of laws, he offers them a life-giving relationship with himself. At the heart of the Christian faith is not so much a moral code or a set of religious laws but rather, a person, the person of Jesus Christ who is our Emmanuel, God-with-us.
We are called to come to him, as he has come to us, to relate to him in love, as he has given himself for us in love. In coming to him we discover him to be, not an impersonal taskmaster, but rather, someone who is gentle and humble in heart. The living out of our relationship with him will be demanding; walking in his way often requires saying 'no' to other, seemingly more attractive, ways. However, his demands are the demands of love; the path he puts before us is life-giving rather than oppressive and overburdening. His loving relationship with us and ours with him empowers us to take that path, to walk in his way.