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  • Writer's pictureFr. Gustavo

"There IS rest for the weary"

A composite of a word and a pendant cross
There IS rest for the weary

More than once you may have heard me saying that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is countercultural.  Or, in other words, it goes against the grain of some or even all the norms and accepted beliefs of a culture.

 

For instance, at the time of Jesus Christ birth the Roman Empire's accepted norm was to worship the Emperor of the Day. 


The Roman people were educated, they organized a sophisticated army, and they had what it took to be the top dog.  Even today, to aa large part their basic legal code still is in use – and I bet that you will be surprised at hearing about it – in our own Louisiana.  As it is in many, many other nations around the world.  The Romans were not like Attila and the Huns!

 

Still, their civil religion required that the Emperor were to be worshiped as a god.  They could care less whatever else your beliefs were, if you were under the Roman Empire, Roman citizen or not, you must worship Cesar.  And for going against the culture of their day, Christians were put to death.

 

Fast forward twenty-one hundred years, today the Gospel goes against the grain of our prevalent contemporary culture.

 

The most obvious and perhaps clearer example is the notion of a “Christian Nation”.  We are just a few weeks out of Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost, and time and again, you read how adamant was Jesus about the establishment of an earthly kingdom. 

 

When he had the opportunity of escaping death by just pretending to be a run-of-the-mill revolutionary, Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not for this world.”  And right before his Ascension, the disciples which nevertheless could get what had just transpired in Jerusalem, still as, “And now, you are going to establish your kingdom, right?”

 

Another value is “Profit at any cost.”  At the heart of our economic thinking there is the self-serving belief that people not only want to have enough, but the more, the better.  And this goes all the way from the desire to be better and to do better for the good of self and humankind, to the desire just to be better for my own sake – never mind someone else.

 

From the parable of the fool businessman – yes, the one who built silos to accumulate wealth – to our gospel reading which finds the disciples plucking wheat that had not been collected – on purpose!!

 

Leviticus – a book so often quoted as an authority on sexual matters and tithing, has also this striking command, “When you harvest the grain in your land, don't harvest the grain in the corners of your fields or gather what is left after you’re finished.  Leave it for poor people and foreigners.  I am the LORD your God.”  (23:22).

 

So, right off the bat of the early days of what was to become the nation of Israel, “profit at any cost” was a no-no.  And as you read more and more of the history of Israel, you will notice, time and again, the prophets condemning those who embraced the notion of “profit at any cost.”

 

So, what the disciples were doing was perfectly fine.  Their problem was that they were doing it on the sabbath.  Which leads me to my final point, the value of “Sabbath.”

 

Again, going back to Leviticus, we find this commandment – which appears on our first reading, as well, “You have six days in which to do your work, but remember that the seventh day, the Sabbath, is a day of rest.  On that day do not work, but worship.  For the Sabbath belongs to the LORD, no matter where you live.” (23:3). 

 

Keeping a Sabbath rest even when the pressure is on is a a clear sign that you trust your God to take care of you, even if you do not work.  Or as Psalm 127 puts it, “God takes care of his own, even while they sleep.”

 

I know.  I am a workaholic, and my name is Gustavo.  I find very difficult to stop.  At home, there is always something to fix, paint, or improve.  In my own personal life, there is always something new to learn.  In my spiritual life there is always someone in the need of prayer.

 

Why can’t I stop?  If God values rest, why I can’t?  Now, let me ask you, am I alone?

 

Productivity is the god that contemporary Americans are asked to worship.  It is the god who carries the carrot of progress on one hand and the stick of shame on the other.  “Look to so-and-so.  Look to where he or she is now?  And where are you?”  

 

Close to our branch where we do our banking, off Hull Street, a company is building a new development for people 55 and over – The retired and those close to retirement.  But right smack in the middle of their brochure, they list all the things that the tenants could do rather than enjoying doing nothing and still being paid for doing nothing!

 

So here is the good news.  Whether you believe it or not, God cares about you.  And his provision will never falter.  We may not get what we want, or what society tells us that we must have – or else.  But God will never let you down.

 

Can we re-learn to stop and to enjoy life at its simplest?  Yes, we can.  And doctors, psychologists, and everybody else will tell you the value of sabbath time.  But it will require going against the grain of our culture. 

 

To begin with, when people ask you what you DID for your vacation, you will need to learn to be proud about just saying, “I did nothing.  I woke up late, enjoyed the beach, or the mountains, whatever.  I ate whatever was in the fridge, took long naps, and did not worry for a minute about my to-do list.  I just took time to enjoy the presence of God in my life.” 

 

I promise that I will try to do it not only now, but on a regular basis. 

 

So, almost at the kickstart of the high-power machine of summer catch up, let me encourage you to shut down summer even before it starts.  Don’t let Labor Day find you tired as a dog, and with the prospect of a full year still ahead.  Take time for God, for God will take time for you.

 

No.  It doesn’t mean letting the roof fall on you or do what it must be done.  It means to be picky, and not to be ashamed of it.  It means to steel yourself against the pressures of the god of productivity, and to relax before the altar of your heavenly Father, who values rest, and the time to catch up with oneself.

 

It goes against the grain, isn’t it?  Yet, let me recall our Lord’s words, “Come unto me ye who are heavy laden, and I will you rest.”

 

Will you join me in giving sabbath time a second look?  I hope you will!  Can you say “Amen” to that?

 

Fr. Gustavo

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