Fourteenth Sunday in
July 6, 2002 Cycle A
by Rev. Jerome A. Magat
First Reading - Zechariah 9: 9-10
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14
Second Reading - Romans 8:9, 11-13
Gospel - Matthew 11:25-30
Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
At that time Jesus said in reply, "I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.
"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 will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."
Several people around the parish have been asking me how things have been going now that I've been at the parish 10 days. I have to report that all seems to be going well - I've reduced my calls to Fr. Chris from three times a day to once every other day. This transition period reminds me of a priest-friend who was working in his office at his new parish just weeks after his ordination and received a call from the parish secretary down the hall. She was explaining to him that both the pastor and the other parochial vicar were not in and that there was a woman in the lobby who badly needed to speak with a priest. My priest-friend said, "ok - sure, no problem." Forgetting that he himself was a priest , he continued to do work at his desk. A minute later, the secretary, somewhat irate, called him again and said, "Father - you're the only priest here. Are you going to come down and speak to this woman?" He replied, "Oh my goodness - that's right - I'm a priest!" I haven't had a moment like that yet . . . thankfully.
Today's Gospel presents us with some of the most comforting words we'll find in all of Scripture - Jesus says, "Come to me, all of 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 will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light."
The yoke, which is not to be confused with the yellow part of the egg as my 9 year old niece claims it is, is truly a great metaphor for us to consider. Yokes take many forms and shapes and sizes. In the time of Jesus, it was not uncommon to see farmers using the double harness yoke. This type of yoke allowed two animals to walk side by side with each other and thereby reduce the weight of the load behind them. The double harness yoke should speak to us in a variety of ways:
First, we can consider that as we journey along the pathway of faith, we, like the beasts of burden who wear the yoke, always walk side by side with one another. We are not alone in our journey. The two animals tethered in a yoke have to walk together at the same pace or else it throws the balance of the yoke off. We see this with married couples who have to bear with each others faults and imperfections and be patient with the other. We see this among siblings who struggle to get along and we see this among co-workers who have to work together to complete a task.
We not only walk with others, but we walk with Christ Himself, who is alongside of us every step of the way. With Christ, we are called to dig deep furrows in the soil of society and give the farmer, known as the Holy Spirit, an opportunity to plant seeds behind us - seeds of grace and conversion that will yield a rich harvest of believers and those who are more deeply committed to Christ and His Church.
There's another way of considering the yoke. Those of you who heard my homily on Independence Day will be well-familiar with this idea. At first glance, the yoke can seem rather restrictive. After all, it really limits the animals' range of motion such that it can't just walk off and do its own thing. Furrows need to be straight and narrow - that's why animals are harnessed by the yoke - to guarantee straight lines in the soil. In the same way, the yoke of the moral code by which we live by as Catholics may seem restrictive and prevent us from doing whatever we want, whenever we want, with whomever we want. Yet, just as the yoke frees up the animal to do that and only that which it is meant to do, the moral code of the Church frees us up to aspire to our full human potential - to be God-like. So, we see that freedom is not merely licitly - a freedom from constraint. Rather, true freedom is a freedom of excellence - the capacity to do what we ought to do. This is exactly the freedom that the Founding Fathers had in mind. How sad to see our concept of freedom perverted into mere licentiousness to do merely what we please. This is why Jesus says that his yoke is easy and his burden light. When we are free from sin and live in His law and His plan - then and only then can we claim to be truly free. It's a bit of a paradox - the yoke, which would at first cause us to believe that it would weigh us down, actually frees us to do what is right and just and true and good. In time, the yoke that Jesus would take upon Himself would be the Cross - we too, must take up our Cross and follow Him.
St. Paul offers us a very concrete example of one of the major obstacles to this true freedom. He speaks of one of the three enemies of the soul: the flesh. The other two are the world and the devil Himself. So, what about the flesh? Paul uses incredibly strong language with the Romans - he says, "For if you live according to the flesh, you will die . . ." The Romans were a tough crowd. In many ways, they still are. Paul was writing to a community that was known for its sexual immorality and permissiveness. It was also known for its general immodesty. In our own day, with the popularity of pop stars like Britney Spears, who has the most visited website in the world, and others like her, modesty seems to have become the lost virtue. Modesty takes many forms - speech, our choice of entertainment (especially with the temptations on the internet) and our attire. A Jewish woman, named Wendy Shalit, wrote a book a few years back called, "A Return to Modesty - the Recovery of the Lost Virtue. She argues from a totally secular point of view that the lack of modesty in our culture leads to even more sexual permissiveness and the degradation of women from being considered as persons - to being only seen as objects.
Yet modesty is a virtue that we all need to practice. In the summer months, the tendency is for many to appear as if they are going to the beach, not Church. No one here would wear some of the clothing we see if they were on their way to a State Dinner at the White House. Yet, what we celebrate here is the eternal banquet of the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, the living Son of God. How much more of an obligation do we have to dress appropriately - in ways that do not attract the attention of others to ourselves so that they can focus their attention at the miracle that takes place at this altar. Some will argue that God does not care what we look like. That may be true, but proper dress isn't so much for God as it is for our neighbor - to help set the proper tone of solemnity with which we should gather at Sunday Mass. In any case, one's dress always reflects one's disposition towards one's host. This is true at the White House - it certainly must be true at Church.
Lastly, the Gospel of St. Matthew in our passage today, begins with a very interesting idea presented to us by Jesus. He thanks the Father for revealing the secrets of the kingdom of heaven - not to those the world considers to be wise - but to the childlike - those who are innocent, docile, open to God's word and humble. As we embark on another week of work or leisure, may we take time to recognize that just like little children - it is only when we are meek and humble of heart - that we will learn how to live in true freedom - that found in the glorious yoke of Christ.