Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Homily for 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
14th Sunday
in Ordinary Time
July 8, 1984
Matt 11: 25-30
Holy Rosary, Birmingham, Ala.
St. John Bosco, B’ham

Once again, last weekend (Sat. eve at Willow Towers) I preached without a written text; and once again I have recourse to an oldie for those who may be following the blog.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the fellow who kept complaining to God about how heavy was the cross he had to carry thru life. One day St. Peter came to him and said, “I want to take you to the storeroom and let you look for another cross to carry.” So they went to a huge warehouse where thousands of crosses were kept for use by all of mankind. St. Peter told the complainer, “Put your cross down over there, and go look around till you find one you like.”

So the fellow started rummaging thru these thousands of crosses. Some he found impossibly heavy, and some shamefully light. He’d hoist them onto his back and try a few steps, like you take a couple of steps in a new pair of shoes. Well, after a couple of hours of all this, he finally found a cross that seemed to be just right for him, neither too heavy nor too light nor too long. He brought it over to St. Peter and said, “I think I’ve found one that suits me. What do you think?” “Well,” said St. Peter, “I think you’ve found the one you brought in here.”

In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you” (Matt 11:28).

Jesus addresses his words to every one of us. From time to time all of us are overwhelmed by life’s problems; we think we can’t handle our crosses. No doubt there are some of us whom these problems nearly crush.

We have to admit that earning a living, raising the kids, cleaning the house, keeping up the yard, studying, and visiting the in-laws all begin to grind on us. Serious illness in the family, or a death, can devastate us. Perhaps unemployment drags some of us down. The guilt of our sins is an awesome weight. Obviously there’s no shortage of possible problems I could list, problems that are real burdens for someone.

Jesus was certainly familiar with the burdens of daily life—even with burdens that were more than routine. When he was small, his family were refugees in a foreign country. His foster-father was a skilled craftsman in a small country town and may well have had trouble finding enuf work. His mother had to go to the village well at least once a day to draw water for cooking and cleaning, besides making, mending, and washing clothes, buying food. And of course keeping tabs on little Jesus and then worrying about him, the way mothers do, as he grew but didn’t seem to be settling down into normal village routine. We speculate that St. Joseph must have died when Jesus was a young man because Joseph isn’t mentioned in the gospels after the temple incident when Jesus was 12.

In his own ministry, Jesus had to contend with the misunderstanding not only of many religious leaders but of his own family; quite plainly, they thought he was crazy (Matt 3:21). Jesus’ disciples, his closest friends, failed to grasp what he was trying to teach them about the kingdom of God, humility, forgiveness, and so on. Jesus came into daily contact with life’s misery: with serious illness, death at an early age, tyrannical government, heavy taxation, poverty, social discrimination, religious hypocrisy, illiteracy, the problems of subsistence farming on rocky ground under a blistering sun, and the burden of sin and guilt.

So Jesus’ words, “Come to me, all you who are weary,” should have had a universal appeal in 30 A.D., and they came from a man who was familiar with weariness and burden.

He promised to refresh those who accepted his invitation. He promised them a yoke with which to haul their burdens, not a heavy yoke for a heavy burden, like oxen dragging a plow or turning a millstone, but a yoke that is easy and burden that is light (Matt 11:30).

What is the yoke of Jesus? He hints at it when he says, “Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.” Gentleness and humility are the yoke he offers us, the yoke that refreshes our souls, that gives us rest.

Gentleness and humility make us patient with what we cannot control in life. They make us understanding of the faults of other people—and even of our own weaknesses and sins. They enable us to admit our sinfulness and seek forgiveness. They remind us that we don’t have to solve our problems alone, but we are joined to Jesus; it’s his yoke we wear, and our burdens have become his. They remind us that the problems, even the complete disasters of life, are only temporary, that is, limited to time, to this world. But the kingdom of God is eternal; it is our real home. In it are no poverty, no sickness, no death, no emotional devastation—only the everlasting love of God for us and us for God and one another.

The cross, the yoke, the burden we carry in life is inevitable. You’ve never known a person who didn’t have problems. But our burden becomes lighter when we see it as the yoke of Jesus or as a share in his cross. For then he is carrying it with us. “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you.”

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