14th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Fr. Rick Sherman
July 5, 2020
Zec. 9:9-10; Rom. 8:9, 11-13; Mt 11:25-30
In 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 invites 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 and not just create chaos 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 the 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’. Some even use the Bible while promulgating from the public square in order to enhance their sense of authority and righteousness. 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.
While preparing my homily I took some time to research the term ‘yoking’ as it is used in the Old Testament and noticed Chapter 58 from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It seemed particularly apropos to our times today. Reflecting carefully over these words on Independence Day weekend and throughout the week might help us understand the role in which Christians are being called to strengthen the foundations of our nation.
YOKE OF OPPRESSION
1 Cry out full-throated and unsparingly, lift up your voice like a trumpet blast. Proclaim to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 They seek me day after day, and desire to know my ways, like a nation that has done what is just and not abandoned the judgment of their God; they ask of me just judgments, they desire to draw near to God.
3 “Why do we fast, but you do not see it? We afflict ourselves, but you take no note?” See, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers.
4 See, you fast only to quarrel and fight and to strike with a wicked fist! Do not fast as you do today to make your voice heard on high!
5 Is this the manner of fasting I would choose, a day to afflict oneself? To bow one’s head like a reed, and lie upon sackcloth and ashes? Is this what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
AUTHENTIC FASTING THAT LEADS TO BLESSING*
6 Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke?
7 Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own flesh?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: “Here I am!” If you remove the yoke from among you, the accusing finger, and malicious speech;
10 If you lavish your food on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then your light shall rise in the darkness, and your gloom shall become like midday;
11 Then the LORD will guide you always and satisfy your thirst in parched places, will give strength to your bones and you shall be like a watered garden, like a flowing spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people shall rebuild the ancient ruins; the foundations from ages past you shall raise up; “Repairer of the breach,” they shall call you, “Restorer of ruined dwellings.”
AUTHENTIC SABBATH OBSERVANCE THAT LEADS TO BLESSING*
13 If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from following your own pursuits on my holy day; If you call the Sabbath a delight, the LORD’s holy day glorious; If you glorify it by not following your ways, seeking your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs—
14 Then you shall delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will nourish you with the heritage of Jacob, your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
I also discovered a reflection by Pope Francis on today’s gospel from 2017. It is remarkably relevant to our pandemic ridden world in 2020. Notice how Francis is here emphasizing the internal, even oppressive burdens we often carry around in our personal lives. Jesus wants to teach us to be free of our burdens of guilt, resentment, fear, unending remorse and regret, etc. As Psalm 145 says today “The LORD lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.”
ANGELUS, Saint Peter’s Square
Sunday, 9 July 2017
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says: “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). The Lord does not reserve this phrase for certain friends of his, no; he addresses it to “all” those who are weary and overwhelmed by life. And who could feel excluded from this invitation? The Lord knows how arduous life can be. He knows that many things weary the heart: disappointments and wounds of the past, burdens to carry and wrongs to bear in the present, uncertainties and worries about the future.
In the face of all this, Jesus’ first word is an invitation, a call to move and respond: “Come”. The mistake, when things go wrong, is to stay where we are, lying there. It seems obvious, but how difficult it is to respond and open ourselves! It is not easy. In dark times it feels natural to keep to ourselves, to ruminate over how unfair life is, over how ungrateful others are, how mean the world is, and so on. We all know it. We have had this awful experience a few times. But in this way, locked up inside ourselves, we see everything as grim. Then we even grow accustomed to sadness, which becomes like home: that sadness overcomes us; this sadness is a terrible thing. Jesus, however, wants to pull us out of this “quicksand” and thus says to each one: “Come! — Who? — You, you, you”. The way out is in connecting, in extending a hand and lifting our gaze to those who truly love us.
In fact it is not enough to come out of ourselves; it is important to know where to go. Because many aims are illusory: they promise comfort and distract just a little; they guarantee peace and offer amusement, then leave us with the loneliness there was before; they are “fireworks”. Therefore, Jesus indicates where to go: “Come to me”. And many times, in the face of a burden of life or a situation that saddens us, we try to talk about it with someone who listens to us, with a friend, with an expert…. This is a great thing to do but, let us not forget Jesus. Let us not forget to open ourselves to him and to recount our life to him, to entrust people and situations to him. Perhaps there are “areas” of our life that we have never opened up to him and which have remained dark, because they have never seen the Lord’s light. Each of us has our own story. And if someone has this dark area, seek out Jesus; go to a missionary of mercy; go to a priest; go…. But go to Jesus, and tell Jesus about this. Today he says to each one: “Take courage; do not give in to life’s burdens; do not close yourself off in the face of fears and sins. Come to me!”.
He awaits us; he always awaits us. Not to magically resolve problems, but to strengthen us amid our problems. Jesus does not lift the burdens from our life, but the anguish from our heart; he does not take away our cross but carries it with us. And with him every burden becomes light (cf. v. 30), because he is the comfort we seek.
When Jesus enters life, peace arrives, the kind that remains even in trials, in suffering. Let us go to Jesus; let us give him our time; let us encounter him each day in prayer, in a trusting and personal dialogue; let us become familiar with his Word; let us fearlessly rediscover his forgiveness; let us eat of his Bread of Life: we will feel loved; we will feel comforted by him.
It is he himself who asks it of us, almost insists on it. He repeats it again at the end of today’s Gospel: “learn from me, and you will find rest for your life” (cf. v. 29). And thus, let us learn to go to Jesus and, in the summer months, as we seek a little rest from what wearies the body, let us not forget to find true comfort in the Lord. May the Virgin Mary our Mother, who always takes care of us when we are weary and overwhelmed, help us and accompany us to Jesus.