As I sat with this Gospel in preparation for Sunday I was drawn to the burdens that we carry, the things that people are weighed down by. As we labour with these burdens our Gospel today invites us to bring them to Jesus. As I reflected further I was reminded of the snapshot of the average Australian that I heard Fr Richard Leonard SJ provide recently. As you hear it I invite you to consider what burdens we Australians are carrying, what weighs us down?
He says the average Australian is 37 years old, lived together before marriage, got married at 31 by a civil celebrant, and has 1.9 children. The house the average Australian lives in is one of the largest houses that Australian have ever lived in and carries a mortgage of $341,400 and is situated in the growth corridor between Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Financially the average Australian Is worth $404,000. This compares with the lowest 10% of the Australian population who have no savings and are $6000 in debt. The average Australian carries $3,100 in monthly debts, loses $931 a year gambling and donates $201 a year to charity. This puts us about 16th in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries with Swedan, Norway, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, U.K., France, Spain, Germany and Canada all ahead of us.
The average Australian eats out more than any other generation of their family, but have just renovated their kitchen. It’s worthy noting how many tv shows about food have saturated our lifestyle shows along with recipe books and foody magazines.
The average Australian has someone in their family who is chronically depressed. $224 million spent on anti-depressants last year. In the U.K they spent than £250 m a year on antidepressants.
When asked the question, “How are you? The average Australian responds by saying “Really busy” or frantic, run off my feet or exhausted.
In terms of recreation, on tv the average Australian spends 26 hours a week watching tv and loves watching sport, sitcoms and so-called reality tv and lifestyle shows, enjoys watching American fantasy and science fiction films which are not explicitly sexual, but do have medium level violence and medium level coarse language. This needs to be seen alongside the call out rate for police in Australia, for which 48% is for domestic violence.
Chances are the average Australian has ready access to soft or hardcore pornography via DVD, online or in magazines. This is one of the largest industries in our economy and globally it is an industry that has more revenue that Microsoft, Google, Amazon, ebay, Yahoo and Apple combined. It’s an industry that’s larger than tourism.
The average Australian reads the Australian Women’s Weekly, the Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter, owns an ipod, has three tv’s and the internet at home and is moving over to pay tv. The average Australian doesn’t read heavy magazines or books.
At the 5th annual happiness conference in Brisbane recently, the wisdom of the presenters was summarized in 5 tips for happiness that are -
o get connected – to other people in community,
o be active,
o take notice of what’s around you as the less focused on yourself you are the happier you’ll be,
o keep learning
o and give – of your time, of yourself and offer what you can and this will make you happier.
While we might speak of each of these tips for happiness differently, the life the Gospel invites us to live is also characterized by community, service, contemplation, sacrifice and love.
"Come to me, all you who labour and are over-burdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls. Yes my yoke is easy and my burden light."
The invitation takes us to something very distinctive of Matthew’s portrait of Jesus: as the One who bears and lifts humanity’s burdens. Humanity is depicted in this gospel as being weighed down and burdened by a multitude of afflictions. The snapshot of the average Australian highlights just what some of those might be. Many of us are burdened: by worry, responsibility, grief, disappointments, hurts, bitterness, poverty, guilt, sickness, unemployment, difficult relationships, addictions, an uncertain future and so on. We can never underestimate the burdens each of us brings when we come to celebrate the Eucharist. Often we have little idea of the difficulties and pain that those around us are carrying and are weighed down by. My yoke, says Jesus, will be well fitted to each disciple. It will distribute the weight of our burdens between each one of us and Jesus; and it will keep us in step with the One who is our Way as we plough through life. As highlighted on the scripture reflection on the cover of our newsletter by Sr Veronica Lawson, the ‘rest’ that Jesus offers is God’s rest that’s not just relief from drudgery and hard work. In the biblical tradition, rest is ‘shabbath’. It’s freedom from any sort of enslavement, freedom to remember God’s goodness in creation. Rest time or ‘shabbath’ is about making a space to contemplate the wonder of the galaxies, the wonder of life in all its forms and all its potentialities. God’s rest restores life to our wearied spirits. It frees us to open ourselves to ever new possibilities and to be there for others.
Jesus says to us, ‘learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’
 Brendan Byrne SJ, Lifting the Burden. Reading Matthew’s Gospel in the Church Today (Strathfield NSW: St Pauls Publications, 2004).