Sunday, June 29, 2014

Homily - 14th Ordinary Sunday (Year A)

14th Ordinary Sunday (Year A)

First Reading: Zechariah 9:9-10           Second Reading: Romans 8:9, 11-13          Gospel Reading: Matthew 11:25-30


There is a story told of a woman who had a terrible problem with gossip. She worked as a parish secretary, knew a lot about the comings and goings of parishioners, and related these facts almost compulsively to whomever would listen. She heard the Gospel all the time; she knew it was wrong; but she couldn’t stop. One day she admitted her problem to a priest. The priest simply asked her what she feared would happen if she stopped gossiping. After reflecting for a moment, she finally replied, “I’m afraid that I’ll be boring, that people will lose interest in me.” Deep down, she was afraid that she was not lovable in her own right.
The priest then suggested that she bring this fear to Christ in prayer. When this woman did so, she sensed Christ telling her, “Fear not.” She felt Christ loving her, supporting her and giving her strength. She kept the practice up; she kept going to Christ with the root of her temptation; she kept receiving his assurance. Things didn’t change overnight, of course. But little by little she was transformed. Because she became convinced that she was loved quite apart from her gossip, she gradually let go of the habit and she experienced peace and consolation.
Often, when we struggle with a burden of sin and are not at peace, it’s because there’s a deeper cause, some fear or insecurity that we have not yet brought to Christ for healing. Christ invites us today saying, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

We have made an awesome spiritual journey through the Easter Season and the Solemnities of the Most Holy Trinity and the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Now we are back to Sundays of Ordinary Time and today is the 14th Sunday. The theme of today's Scripture Readings is very much one of peace and consolation. The First Reading from the prophet Zechariah speaks of a king entering Jerusalem riding on a young donkey. The scene is one of humility but also of peace. He rides on a placid donkey rather than on a prancing war horse. He is the new king whose arrival brings peace to the weary people. In Gospel Reading from St. Matthew, Jesus declares himself to be meek and humble of heart and asks his followers to learn from him. In following Jesus, the Christian experiences a strange paradox - although weighed down by difficulties and work, he experiences his burden as light and easy. In the Second Reading from his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul reminds us that the spirit of God dwells in us. He uses a contrast, common in his writings, to show the distinctiveness of the Christian life. He contrasts the 'life of the flesh' - a purely mundane, disordered worry about earthly life, with the 'life of the spirit' - the desires, interests and concerns of those in whom God’s Spirit dwells.

Today’s First reading from Zechariah is taken from the second part of the book, which was written sometime around the 3rd century B.C. The Prophet Zechariah envisions the triumphant arrival of a Messianic king, deliberately portrayed as meek and humble rather than as an aggressive warlord. He urges the Israelite people to rejoice on the day of the Lord’s coming. He is the new king whose arrival brings peace to the weary people. He has dominion is from sea to sea, and yet he is concerned personally of each one of us. The spiritual importance given to the 'little ones' whom Jesus said would inherit the Kingdom, is brought to the fore here. The “just savior” is one who will banish the weapons of war and proclaim a universal peace within his dominion. Matthew will quote this passage as a prelude to his account of the Passion, and it is certainly in the background of the pericope chosen as today’s Gospel Reading.

In the Gospel Reading of today from St. Matthew, Jesus reveals the Father to us, and so we are swept up in the Holy Spirit into the intimacy between Father and Son, as we ourselves become his sons and daughters in Jesus Christ. Jesus is presented here as the embodiment of that Wisdom which the Jewish Scriptures had referred to as a 'reflection of eternal light.' His words would have been revolutionary to his hearers. Not only does he present himself as Wisdom incarnate, he also suggests that the attainment of Wisdom is given as gift to the 'little ones,' and that it is not the result of the labors of the 'learned' from whom it is hidden. He thanks the Father for granting the disciples the grace to grasp his teaching while keeping its meaning hidden from the so-called wise and intelligent people of the day. This beautiful prayer of Jesus points to the intimacy he has with his Father. Moreover, whereas Jewish tradition held that God’s revelation is contained fully in the law and the prophets, Jesus says that 'everything' has been given over to him by his Father.
Next, in the section that follows, we find a very compassionate image of Jesus, who echoes an offer to us, saying: Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you shall find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” He is not arrogant or overbearing, but 'meek and humble.' He deeply cares for the poor, the suffering and vulnerable. He relates to them with preferential concern - with the gentleness and gracious stance of his heavenly Father. But we should not sentimentalize this. When Jesus is talking about his humility and his meekness, he is talking about his relationship to his Father, for he lives in humble obedience to him. Behind this dark saying is the Passion. Jesus is not saying that the Christian life will be easy.
So, how could we properly understand these words of Jesus? There are two ways of understanding Jesus' command to take his yoke: The first. A 'yoke,' we think of as a heavy and very burdensome, even painful piece of wood laid on the shoulders of an ox. But, because of the yoke, the ox can pull the weight of the cart behind it more easily. It is a burden which is also a help. In this sense we can imagine Jesus strapping the heavy cargo of moral and spiritual perfection to our necks and walking away. And it’s true that it requires effort to be a Christian and Jesus doesn’t hide this fact. The words of Jesus often seem, at first sight, to be very burdensome. Yet, in fact, once understood, we know that there can be no other way of living in true freedom and peace. The second. There is still another way of understanding the image of the yoke. Let us think of it as a double yoke, where two oxen can work together better. In this sense, we become Jesus' yoke-fellow, stepping into the yoke that he already shoulders. Here we imagine Jesus in the yoke alongside us, distributing the weight onto his own shoulders. We now have a lovely image of 'Jesus and me' yoked together, pulling together. 'Take my yoke' then becomes 'Share my yoke.' Where we go, he goes along with us, pulling together with us and making it all the easier. This is what it means to take on Christ’s yoke - to strive to live the fullness of the law’s demands; yes, but never to do so alone. It means to allow Christ to stand in the yoke alongside us, to allow him to shoulder the greater part of the burden. Christ’s yoke is easy because, at heart of Christian discipleship, we find not a law, but a person, a person who is 'meek and humble of heart,' a person who loves us and shoulders our load.
There is really no conflict between the two meanings. Both images capture a part of what it means to cooperate with grace in the Christian life. We are called to be with Jesus all the way, accepting his life vision, his standards, his values – unconditionally. This calls for the simplicity and openness of children rather than intellectual sophistication. Accepting Jesus all the way is not intended as a burden but as a source of comfort, peace, liberation and joy.

In the Second Reading from his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul reminds us that the Spirit of God dwells in us. Christ’s dominion is his victory over death; our intimacy with him is the fact that the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us and him who raised Jesus from the dead will also give life to our mortal bodies by His indwelling in us. Thus when we think spiritually, we are no longer burdened by the worldly ways because we are walking our living faith and hope with a spiritual heart. The Spirit enables us to overcome selfishness and live for God. Those who have responded to Jesus’ invitation “Come to me …” are obliged to make a fundamental choice for him and to live by his Spirit. This is the message for us today. The contrast 'spirit-flesh' introduced by Saint Paul represents competing fields of force or spheres of power. The self-centered person who lives by the desires of 'sinful flesh' is doomed to death, that is, to suffer definitive alienation from God. On the other hand, the person animated by the life-giving Spirit experiences God’s gift of life and peace.

Today Jesus echoes his invitation, saying, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” By saying this Jesus does not promise a life without burdens or weariness. On the other hand he offers a way of overcoming them. His is not an easy way out of problems but rather a liberating way into solutions. One of the burdens people bore around Jesus' time was that of a heavy, law-centered religion. Some of the religious people of Jesus' time had very strict interpretations of the law and he challenged this overburdening religion. The same happens often in any religious people – some can be over-demanding and their piety is overbearing. Again, many people are overwhelmed with all the duties and responsibilities of theirs they have to carry everyday. Many people are carrying so many burdens they are at a lost on what to do. Many people are weighed down by some of the issues they have to confront daily in life they become depressed. But there is a divine invitation from the Lord to come to him for our courage & strength, consolation & peace. Therefore, we need to talk to the Lord about our concerns, cares, anxieties, worries, plans, and prospects. He has not promised to take away our responsibilities from us but to lighten them so that they are easy to bear and so that we may have peace of mind. In this therefore, one should not expect to be freed from all our obligation. On the contrary, the means and resources to better meet them will be provided for us.
Finally, we have a clear message from Jesus to come to him and receive the rest he alone can give. It is a call to a personal relationship. He takes us away from the impersonal relationship of law to a personal relationship of love and makes us enter a joyful life giving relationship. In coming to the person of Jesus we discover that far from being burdened, we are fully liberated. He invites us to place the yoke of ours on our shoulders and follow him. Normally any carpenter knows that if the yoke does not fit it hurts and leaves a painful mark. But the yoke of love which Jesus gives does not leave any wound or deep mark. It is a burden of love and it can never be painful. All of us surely remember the story of a small boy appearing out of the snow storm carrying a little boy on his back. When a compassionate person observed him and said, “That is a heavy load for you to be carrying.” To which the boy replied, “No, he is not really heavy sir.” And smilingly he said, “He is my wee brother.” In a similar way Jesus has carried the burden of ours personally and hence the very presence of his makes our burden light and gives us joy and peace. And this is the Good News of today.


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