As a society, we are experiencing an epidemic of stress and anxiety. Trying to keep up with the demands of life, we have worn ourselves out. Many of us are getting much less sleep then we need because we are worried about paying our bills or finding a job. This heightened stress takes a toll on our bodies making our blood pressure soar. It causes us to overeat and drink too much to compensate for the pressure we feel. It makes it harder for us to relate to others because we become closed in on ourselves. We are trapped in a prison of fear.
How different our life is when we put God at the center of it! Jesus promised those who follow him that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Those who live according to his teaching are no longer burdened by having to live up to the world’s unrealistic expectations. We no longer measure ourselves against what others expect of us. Rather we measure ourselves against the word of a merciful God who knows us and loves us. We no longer live in a prison of fear. We who follow Jesus live in the freedom of faith.
Today’s second reading from the letter to the Hebrews focuses on what faith means in the life of the believer. Faith means more than believing that God exists. As Saint James tells us, even the devil believes in God. Rather, the faith that transforms our lives and saves us is the belief that God’s promise to us will be fulfilled. It means trusting God and his word even when our instincts tell us something different or the people around us are making different choices. It means believing God’s word so deeply and so earnestly that we pattern every aspect of our lives in accordance with it. We give food to the hungry because Jesus tells us we must. And we bite our tongue rather than spread gossip because it is what Jesus expects of us. We make these choices not because they are easy nor because people will appreciate us for it. Very often, the opposite is true. Rather we act with love and mercy because we hold onto God’s promise that he will reward our good deeds. We make these choices out of faith.
When we are experiencing a high level of stress in our lives, it is important for us to take some time aside to reflect and pray. Sometimes stress is unavoidable. In that case, Jesus will help us carry our burden. However, more often than not, we feel pressure because we are trying to live up to the expectations of others. It could be that we are burdening ourselves with debt trying to live up to the standard of living we think our society expects. It could be that we are involved in a lifestyle that makes us fit in with those around us but which goes against our core values. In these cases, Jesus offers us the opportunity in faith to throw off those burdens and exchange them for the light yoke of his word. He gives us the strength to no longer fear what others will say or think and to live in true freedom. Once we experience the peace that comes from doing God’s will, we will no longer want to go back to the pressure of trying to live up to the world’s expectations.
The antidote to the stress and fear we are experiencing as a society is faith in Jesus Christ. But how do we get such faith? It is not something we can learn by reading a book or that we can earn by being good. Faith is a gift of God. The good news is that because God loves us, he wants us to have everything we need to live a full and happy life. And so, he will give us faith if we ask him. In fact, we already have the gift of faith through our baptism and confirmation. We just have to put it to use. If we think we do not know how to put our faith to use, we only have to ask God to teach us. As our life focuses more and more on him, we will see just how active he is in our lives and how willing he is to help us along.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus gives us an important example as to how we are to exercise our faith. As believers, we are to live in the active expectation that Jesus will come again. This is the real important difference between those who believe and those who do not. Those who live without faith act as if this world is all there is. They live to accumulate possessions and experience as much pleasure as possible. Sacrifice, giving to others and patience mean nothing to them because they are living only for today. However, they live in fear because all these material things they hold so dear can easily be taken away from them.
Those of us who enjoy the gift of faith have an altogether different outlook. We know that this world and its pleasures are passing away. Our hope is set not on what this world can give us but on the eternal life promised to us by our Savior. We still need to work, to support our families and to prepare for the future, but we do so in trust knowing that God will provide for us. And if hardship or misfortune should come our way we endure it with patience knowing that God is at our side and trusting that he will make all things work for our good. It is not an easy way to live, but it is a more fulfilling and happier life than this world can give. And it is ours if we stake our lives on God’s promise.