July 9, 2023
Zec. 9:9-10; Rom. 8:9, 11-13; Mt 11:25-30
In today’s second reading from St. Paul to the Romans, he makes a rather sharp distinction between the ‘flesh’ and the Spirit. Sometimes St. Paul says that the flesh is opposed to the Spirit. Could be, but the real point is that we give the Spirit primacy over the flesh. Living in the fullness of the Spirit was not possible before Jesus came, taught, died, resurrected… and then sent us the Holy Spirit in a more powerful way on Pentecost. This is the same Spirit as in the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. We say that humans can now participate in the indwelling love of the Holy Spirit. We can act with God’s wisdom, knowledge, understanding and strength as we venture in the world.
The flesh is not just the carnal and sexually charged energy we carry within us, but it refers to the whole material world. In large part the whole world that humans have ‘invented’. Recall from the Genesis account of Creation, God made everything in a perfectly ordered harmony. Because of sin, Adam and Eve’s eyes were then ‘opened’, that is their human vision kicked in. Since then, all humans began to see things in a distorted and even perverse way. That’s why Jesus came to save us…because we can’t see straight or live straight. We tend to live by the ‘flesh’.
Since the first sin, humans now think that we can arrive at a point of high happiness if we can just get the right people and the right stuff into our lives. That could be a legitimate goal in part, but ultimately only the Creator, not creation, can satisfy our deepest desires for happiness, belonging and purpose. Our need for more cars, fuel, square footage, for more varieties of every conceivable thing and service won’t satisfy our deepest appetites and desires. Our social economic system is devised around our perceived need for more of the material human-made world. Our foreign policy is largely built around protecting American interests, largely based on our economic interests which are based largely on our need for more options, more variety of everything. We know that the wealth generated by our collective efforts of production and consumption is more and more concentrated in fewer households. This is not a big global conspiracy, though. This is not the far Left or the Extreme Right who are trying to bring us down. It’s pride, greed, envy, gluttony, and sloth mostly. At the risk of sound unsophisticated, it’s the Devil.
Most of us who are not part of the 10% who control the wealth are just too lazy and lethargic to think of an alternative way to live. Plus, we all like nice stuff. We all like maximum autonomy. This is what St. Paul and Jesus refer to as the ‘flesh’. The human-contrived world that demands control and ultimate meaning through manipulation and the physical, sensate word. It comes as the expense of our interior lives. The Kingdom of God that Jesus says is among us, in fact, within us. Take a quick moment right now and think of the last 3 well-developed conversations you’ve had with your closest friends and loved one about the ‘interior life’. It’s possible that we have NEVER had 3 well-developed conversations about our interior lives. Or even one…?
No wonder we seem to be busier and busier and BUSIER AND BUSIER!!, but not really much happier. Which leads us to the gospel today.
Jesus promises that His yoke is easy, His burden light. A yoke made it possible for two large animals to pull or carry a heavy load. Ideally you would have two animals with similar strength who were trained and accustomed to the yoke as well as the particular work at hand. Often, however there might be a more experienced animal paired with a ‘trainee’. When Jesus uses this metaphor, He is not just handing us His yoke, but is already harnessed into one side and directs us to fit in to the other side. He will guide us with His wisdom and His truth. He will keep us on the road without overturning the wagon and will keep us straight in the furrow of the field so as to be fruitful rather than just create chaos on the road and in the field.
Jesus wants to free us from most of what burdens us in our personal lives, but also reminds us of the role of the Church to free others from the yoke of their burdens, afflictions and oppression of all kinds. The gospel today from Matthew was written primarily to Jews who had become Christians. They would have been familiar with the symbol of the yoke as it has been used throughout their history. An understanding of their tradition and their holy Scriptures was essential for understanding the person of Jesus, for Jesus was fulfilling the promises from their Hebrew Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament).
As we read in the prophet Zechariah today, their king would not come as a bombastic dictator with a large army to make Israel great again and to assert their power OVER others, but rather He would come with ‘humility and meekness’. In fact, “He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; the warrior’s bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations.” This image of one riding in on an ass certainly prefigures the Christ that would come about 500 years later and ride through the streets of Jerusalem. Jesus would be down on the ground with us, pulling with us, and focused especially on removing the yoke of oppression and affliction from the most vulnerable.
Jesus (and Matthew) dared used scriptural ideas such as ‘yoking’ because He expected faithful Jews to have a familiarity which such things. Even in our age most political leaders while taking an oath of office do so while placing a hand on the Bible and end with saying ‘so help me God’. How confident are we that our political leaders are well studied in the Bible and that we are all calling on the same God? Who would know? It is one of our greatest Christian responsibilities to make sure our current and future leaders, (coming from our communities and families!) understand God’s plan for peace among the nations…before they take their oath of office.
Before we can raise Godly leadership in our families and communities, we have to BE Godly families and communities. We need to stay vigilant that the Spirit in our lives has primacy over the ‘flesh’. The ‘flesh’ is good; it just must be subordinated to the Spirit. We need a lot more time in each day to devote to the Spirit. We need more silence and Scriptural meditation. We are blessed to be in this beautiful landscape where we have the sheer enormity of the mountains and desert. A landscape that can hold our deepest thoughts and dreams, our deepest disappointments and perhaps failures.
We are also blessed this week with the opportunity to develop a deeper awareness and appreciation of the Eucharist. The God among us and within us in the most profound way. In a couple hours we might even feel a big surge of Spirit coming from the Mountain America arena up in Sandy. This Spirit an hold the full range of our deepest desires and regrets. This is the yoke that is easy and lets us rest.
This week would be an excellent time to keep the big surge of Spirit alive and strong by spending some quiet time before the Blessed Sacrament, especially in the afternoon when it’s 148 degrees outside. Or get out on those desert and mountain trails by 7 AM when it’s only 120 degrees.
Statement/Video from USCCB summarizing the Pope’s July intentions:
Catholics must place the Eucharist at the center of their lives to transform their relationships with God and their neighbors, Pope Francis said.
“If you are the same at the end of Mass as you were at the beginning, something is wrong,” the pope said in a video message released July 3 for his prayer intention for the month of July: “For a Eucharistic life.”
“The Eucharist is the presence of Jesus, it is deeply transforming. Jesus comes and must transform you,” he said.
The video, different versions of which are released with the pope’s monthly prayer intention, also showed people attending Mass, helping the homeless and visiting the elderly.
By offering himself in the Eucharist, Christ “invites us so that our lives may be nourished by him and may nourish the lives of our brothers and sisters,” the pope said.
“The Eucharistic celebration is an encounter with the Risen Jesus,” Pope Francis said. “At the same time, it is a way of opening ourselves to the world as he taught us.”
Each time Catholics participate in the Eucharist, “Jesus comes and gives us the strength to love like he loved,” the pope said, because the Eucharist “gives us the courage to encounter others, to go out of ourselves and to open ourselves to others with love.”
Pope Francis prayed that Catholics may place at the center of their lives the eucharistic celebration which ” which transforms human relationships and opens up an encounter with God and their brothers and sisters.”
Homily Reflection Question
“If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you,
the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.” Rom. 8:11
When do you remember the Spirit first dwelling in you and how did that change your life in the near future?
Have you ever lost this experience of the Spirit? For how long? What was that experience like?
“My yoke is easy; my burden is light.” Mt. 11:30
Share with a friend or loved one how God’s easier yoke saved you from the burden and limitations of life in the ‘flesh’.