Homily 14th Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle A
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., pastor, St. Joseph’s, Dalton, Georgia
When Jesus refers to the “wise and the learned” in today’s Gospel, he was referring to the Pharisees, Scribes, and the leaders of the people of whom he said “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders” (Mt. 23:4). For them, religion is a list of rules and regulations for how others ought to behave, and in their righteousness and arbiters of the law, they particularly liked to pile up these burdens on the weak, the defenseless, and the voiceless, almost making it impossible to live the Law and the Prophets as God truly intended.
Some Rabbis saw this and had a parable to illustrate the point. “There was a poor widow in my neighborhood who had two daughters and a field. When she began to plough, Moses (i.e. the Law of Moses) said, ‘You must not plough with an ox and an ass together.’ When she began to sow, he said, ‘You must not sow your field with mingled seed.’ When she began to reap and to make stacks of corn, he said, ‘When you reap your harvest in your field, and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it’ (Deut. 24:19), and ‘you shall not reap your field to its very border’ (Lev. 19:9). She began to thresh, and he said, ‘Give me the heave-offering, and the first and second tithe.’ She accepted the ordinance and gave them all to Him. What did the poor woman then do? She sold her field, and bought two sheep, to clothe herself from their fleece, and to have profit from their young. When they bore their young, Aaron (i.e. the demands of the priesthood) came and said, ‘Give me the first-born.’ So she accepted the decision, and gave them to him. When the shearing time came, and she sheared them - Aaron came and said, ‘Give me the first of the fleece of the sheep’ (Deut.18:4). Then she thought: ‘I cannot stand up against this man. I will slaughter the sheep and eat them.’ Then Aaron came and said, ‘Give me the shoulder and the two cheeks and the stomach’ (Deut.18:3). Then she said, ‘Even when I have killed them I am not safe from you. Behold they shall be devoted.’ Then Aaron said, ‘In that case they belong entirely to me’ (Num.18:14). He took them and went away and left her weeping with her two daughters." (Barclay, Matthew, Volume 2, p. 16) The point of this parable was to illustrate how ridiculously burdensome and unjust the law becomes when interpreted by men who forget the dignity of each human person.
That's why when Jesus makes his famous, beautiful, and comforting statement, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burden, and I will give you rest”, he was speaking to the “little ones”, the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the “least of his brothers”. Those who labor, who are exhausted, come to Jesus and find rest. Those exhausted on the search for God, those exhausted looking for what is Right and what is Wrong, those exhausted with their daily duties and obligations, those exhausted with the burdens others have placed on them, those exhausted in their own struggle with sin, these come to Jesus and learn from his meekness and humility of heart. They find rest from a world that is confused about sin, capricious in its judgments, unkind and unjust to the weak, and many times simply cruel.
They find rest for their souls if not for their bodies in the person of Jesus. He came not to lift the burdens from us, but to carry them with us. He took upon himself the sorrows of the world because he shares in our sorrows and weeps when we weep. That’s why we have such great devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the feast day we celebrated this past Friday. His Divine Person has a human heart that loves, feels, and sorrows as we do.
Wherever he goes, the Evangelists tell us, “his heart is moved with pity for the crowds.” He cures the sick, gives sight to the blind, touches the leper, casts out demons, and raises the dead because of a widowed mother’s tears. Even on the cross, he shows mercy to the repentant thief.
This consolation, however, comes with a price. He says “Take my yoke upon you...” His yoke is his commandments, to love one another as he has love us. To lay down one’s life for one’s friends. This is an obligation imposed on us, the only burden Christ lays on us. But he says that his yoke is easy, his burden is light. A closer translation of “easy” is “well-fitting” (Barclay). Like the ox who has a custom-made yoke that fits well, tailored specifically to each ox so that it will not chafe or bruise, so also the Yoke of Christ. We each have our duties, our obligations, our burdens that we have no choice to carry. But we can choose to carry them with Christ, and they take on a new character, they become a joy, for a burden carried with love is no burden at all.
And it does not end there. Not only are we to take up our own Cross and follow after Him, we are to lighten the burdens of others. If we are to imitate Christ, we must view the world with his eyes. Have compassion on the crowds - the “little ones”, the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the “least of his brothers”. The religion of Jesus is not one which imposes impossible burdens on others, but seeks to make the ones people do carry light and easy, and not to add burdens which are unjust, capricious, and as Archbishop Gregory has said, “mean-spirited”.
I am speaking of course, of Georgia’s new immigration law, which ironically goes into effect the weekend we celebrate our freedom. Those who came here believing in that freedom are now being told that they are to have no part of it. Political cowards in their statehouses, the wise and the learned, have penned laws that label human beings created in God’s image and likeness as “illegal” and “criminals”. Are they? By man’s law, perhaps. By God’s law? Look at the results: families are divided, children who know no other home than Dalton are being sent to what is for them, a foreign country, people guilty of no serious crime are detained and deported, often separated from their families for months or more. In the name of political expediency, young people who call Dalton home and speak English with a Southern Drawl are told they are undesirable: they cannot legally get a driver’s license and will be detained and deported for not having one; they do well in our local schools but are told they cannot receive a higher education; they want to work and make a life for themselves in this land of the free, but are told they cannot work legally. Good people, as much as 30% of your brothers and sisters here at Saint Joseph’s, are living in fear, and many have already left.
Christ is there on the Cross, carrying the burden of our sins, and we have refused him. As St. Augustine would have Jesus tell Peter on the Mount of the Transfiguration, when Peter thought he was in heaven and wanted to stay, “Come down, Peter: you desired to rest on the mountain; come down, preach the word, be persistent in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and teaching. (2 Tim 4:2) ... The glory [you see] has been reserved for you, Peter, but for after death. For now, Jesus says to you, ‘Go down to toil on earth; to serve on earth, to be scorned and crucified on earth. [I am the] Life who goes down to be killed; [I am the] Bread who goes down to suffer hunger; [I am] the Way goes down to be exhausted on his journey; [I am the] Fountain who goes down to suffer thirst; and you refuse to suffer? Seek not your own. Have charity, preach the truth; then you shall come to eternity, where you will find your rest.’” (CCC 556)
I for one, have no intention of resting while our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering and carrying this heavy burden.
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