By Fr. Bill Nordenbrock, C.PP.S.
As I pray with and reflect on today’s Gospel passage, a persistent image keeps coming to mind. I keep imagining a crying toddler being swept up into the arms of her daddy. Maybe the child is crying because she got scared or because she’s fallen, but once she is picked up and embraced by her daddy, she knows that she is safe and that she is going to be all right.
In the Gospel we are told that while speaking with his followers, Jesus spontaneously raised up a prayer. In our translation, we hear Jesus address the prayer to his “father,” although we know his prayer was to his “abba.” Abba is a familiar address, much like we say “daddy.” In a religious culture that did not dare to speak the name of God, Jesus prayed with a shocking degree of intimacy and familiarity. I wonder why the translator made the salutation more formal. Maybe it was too shocking for the translator? The invitation of Jesus to know God in this way, an invitation to pray like Jesus, may also be shocking to us.
In this Gospel story, Jesus is speaking to a people who believed that faithfulness was measured by their adherence to the Law. The Mosaic law was a gift of God to God’s chosen people. It was to help them to understand their relationship with God and to express that relationship in all that they did. However, sometimes adherence to the Law was imposed on people in a manner that it seemed to be a yoke or a heavy burden to carry. Within that tradition, Jesus brings a prophetic voice. Not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Mt 5:17).
A couple of summers ago, I was preaching a mission appeal in an unfamiliar place. After Mass, the music minister came to thank me and said: “We worship here under an air of strictness. It is nice to have someone tell us how much God loves us.”
Like at the time of Jesus, religious people today sometimes still believe that growing in our relationship with God and in faithfulness, is a mountain that we have to climb. We might think, if only I can do everything “right,” I will grow in my relationship to God. If I do everything “right,” then I will reach the peak and know the love of God.
But Jesus says: Little ones, learn from me. Be like me, meek and humble of heart. Shrug off the yoke, put down the burden that you carry. Open your arms and heart and accept the embrace of the God who loves you. When you fall on your journey of faith, when you are too afraid to do what you know to be faithful, the loving arms of God still hold you dear.
A former moderator general of the worldwide congregation, Fr. Bill Nordenbrock, C.PP.S., resides in Chicago. He serves as the provincial secretary and treasurer of the United States Province.