14th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA
Jesus says that his yoke, the burden he imposes is light. Let's review. Turn the other cheek. Forgive your neighbor not just seven times but seven times seventy times. Go the extra mile. Love God and neighbor as you love yourself. Hate your parents, your siblings if you will follow him. Die for the love of a friend. Eat his flesh and drink his blood. Be prepared for persecution, torture, and death for spreading his Good News. Pray for your enemies. Don't worry about tomorrow b/c God even takes care of the sparrows. Go, and sin no more. We could go on. But the picture here is perfectly clear. There's nothing easy, light, or in any way casual about putting on the yoke of Christ. Just figuring out what some of these commands mean is burdensome enough w/o trying to actually carry them out. Does he understand the burden he's putting on us? He says that he will give us rest. He says that we will learn from him – his meekness and humility. So, when Jesus invites us to take on his yoke, what is he asking us to do? Is taking on his burdens worth the time and effort?
In one of his many sermons,* St. Augustine has this to say about our gospel passage, “All other burdens oppress and crush you, but Christ's burden actually lightens your load. All other burdens weigh you down, but Christ's burden gives you wings. If you cut away a bird's wings, it might seem as though you are taking off some of its weight, but the more weight you take off [by removing its wings], the more you tie the bird down to the earth. There it is lying on the ground, and you wanted to relieve it of a burden; give it back the weight of its wings, and you will see how it flies.” The wise and the learned know that the heavier an object is the more work it takes to make it fly. Lighter objects need less work to fly. But the little ones know that a bird cannot fly without the weight of its wings. Christ’s yoke, his burden on us weighs less than bird bones and feathers. Nothing he asks of us is foreign to him. Nothing he demands of us is beyond our strength. Everything he teaches us and preaches to us is as familiar to him as his own skin. He knows our trials. He knows our weaknesses. Above all, he knows that we are made strong, durable, and patient by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Paul, writing to the Romans, teaches us, “You are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you…” As baptized and confirmed members of the Body of Christ, God’s Spirit does dwell within us. And since God’s Spirit abides in us, “the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to [our] mortal bodies…” And since our mortal bodies will be given the life of the resurrection of the dead when our Lord returns for us, “brothers and sisters, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh…” And so, we are to live as Little Ones – the poor, the broken, the thrown away, the diseased, those who rush to Jesus for a word of healing.
Why must be become so little? Because to be filled with the Spirit we must first be emptied out as Christ himself was emptied out for us on the Cross. There is no room for God’s Spirit in a body crowded with fear, worry, anger, a lust for revenge, a desire to punish; there is no room for God in a soul stuffed full with the need to worship alien gods; to kill the innocent; to torture the enemy. Greed, jealousy, rage, promiscuity, dissent, all elbow sharply at our souls for more space for themselves but make no room for God. Paul warns us: “…if you live according to the flesh, you will die…” If we will live, we must “put to death the deeds of the body…”
Nothing that you have heard Jesus or Paul say this evening should surprise you. You know the consequences of sin. Firstly, sin makes you stupid. Disobedience quenches the fire of the intellect, so that you choose evil over good. Do this often enough and you become a fool. Secondly, since sin makes you foolish, you come to believe that you are wise. If you are also learned, that is, well-educated in the world, you might even begin to believe that you better than God Himself what is best for you. Enter all those nervous questions about the nature of Jesus’ burden and the weight of his revelation on you. Finally, since sin makes you a wise and learned fool, you may come to believe that you can do without God altogether, becoming, for all intents and purposes, your own god, worshiping at the altar of Self. At this point, you have excluded yourself from God’s love and the company of the blessed. Welcome to Hell. Maybe the Devil will let you rule a small corner of your favorite level, but don’t count on it. You know the consequences of sin. So empty yourself. Make plenty of room for God’s Spirit and Christ's featherweight burden.
If we will come among the blessed and thrive in holiness, then we will take on the light and easy yoke of Jesus and let him teach us the one thing we must know above all else: He is the Christ sent by the Father so that we might have eternal life. This is not the end of our spiritual journey; it is just the beginning. Christ’s warnings about the wise and learned are not meant to push a kind of anti-intellectualism, a know-nothing party of prejudice and blindness. In fact, it is because we are first weighted down with the feather-light wisdom of Jesus’ yoke that we must then come to understand our faith, to use our graced minds to explore and comprehend God’s creation – ourselves and everything else. If we are emptied of the deeds of the flesh and infused with the Spirit of God, then our bodies too are graced, and we have nothing to fear from the mind, nothing to worry about in seeking out knowledge and understanding. To know God’s creation better is to know God Himself better, and when we know God better and better, we become smaller and smaller and more and more ready to receive the only revelation we need to come to Him, the only burden from Him we must carry: Jesus is the Christ!
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