Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey

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Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey

Scripture Readings: Zech 9:9-10; Rom 8:9, 11-13; Mt 11:25-30  

“Come to me.”  At a children’s Mass one Sunday long beforfe COVID-19 had started, the pastor  asked the children what Jesus meant by saying, “Come to me.”  One child replied, “I think it means, He loves me.”  How beautiful!  That’s exactly what it means.  

In his excellent commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew, Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis writes: “Jesus turns to us with the sweet command that every lover wants to hear from the beloved, ‘Come to me.’  He gives us this wonderful invitation, ‘Come to me.’  It is the desire of the Son to reveal the Father to us … inviting us into the bridal chamber, to a Lover-God.”1

Jesus confirms that this really is an invitation to marriage when he says, “Take my yoke upon you.”  A yoke joins two animals together to plow a field.  But the Greek word for yoke also means to join two persons together as spouses.  Jesus is inviting us to enter into a marriage bond with him, to share the whole of our lives with God who loves us. 

What happens when we are married to Christ?  It means that He joins our humanity to his divinity making us sharers in His divine nature so that God can love us as his equals. Are you thinking, “No way, that’s not possible!”St.  John of the Cross s writes, “One should not wonder that the soul is capable of so sublime an activity … the soul, at one with the Trinity and in the greatest possible likeness to it, shares the understanding, knowledge and love which God has in himself … souls possess the same goods by participation that the Son possesses by nature.  As a result, they are truly divine by participation, equals and companions of God.” 2   Did you ever in your wildest dreams imagine becoming equals of God?  But it’s true! 

“Come to me” means that Jesus wants you to be his spouse, to share in His divine nature, to see God and enjoy everything that makes God happy.  St. Therese of Lisieux expresses it this way: “We are greater than the whole universe, and one day we ourselves shall have a divine existence.” 3  

 That’s why we’re here this morning, responding to God’s desire to share his divinity and his love with us expressed in those three little words, “Come to me.”

1. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, Ignatius Press, 1996, Vol. 1, p. 708f.

2. St. John of the Cross, Spiritual Canticle, 22 :3-4; Kavanaugh & Rodriguez, 1973; p. 497   

3. St. Therese of Lisieux, Letters, v. 2: We are greater than the whole universe, and one day we ourselves shall have a divine existence. p. 542

                                    

 

Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey

[Scripture Readings: Zech 9:9-10; Rom 8:9, 11-13; Mt 11:25-30]

Charlie Brown and LinusIn the comic strip Peanuts, little Linus is the intellectual, a budding philosopher and problem solver. He’s able to put life into perspective while sucking his thumb and clinging to his security blanket. One day Charlie Brown sees Linus wearing a wooden yoke around his neck. Charlie asks, “What in the world is that?” Linus replies, “This is a ‘yoke.’ I’m going to use it for a special school report. I’m going to tell how the yoke is a symbol of subjection of one individual to another, as Esau to Jacob in Genesis 27:40. Then I’ll tell how the yoke was sometimes placed on the neck of a person reduced to submission. My reference will be Jeremiah 28:10. Then I’ll tell of the yoke placed on Israel by Rehoboam, in 1 Kings 12:9, and wind up by talking about the yoke of sin suggested in Lamentations 1:14, and the ‘easy’ yoke of Matthew 11:29. I think that will cover the subject pretty well.” As Linus walks away Charlie shouts at him, “What about the yoke of inferiority you’ve given me?!”

Poor Charlie BrownCharlie Brown wins our hearts with his losing ways. It always rains on his parade. He’s the blockhead, who can’t fly a kite and who never wins a baseball game or the heart of the little red-haired girl he likes so much. The gang’s “yokes” are always on him. Yet we love him because we all have a bit of Charlie Brown in us. In one comic strip he’s standing alone on the pitcher’s mound saying, “We lost again. I can’t stand it. I just can’t stand it. Our losses are so meaningless! I think that’s what bothers me most. We get beaten and no one even knows about it. Our games aren’t even important. If you lose an important game your loss would have meaning. But our games aren’t even important!” In the final frame he walks off with bowed head and dropping shoulders saying, “I think I’ll go home and lie in a dark room.”

There’s an old spiritual from the Civil War days that mirrors Charlie Brown’s burdens, but with a surprising twist. It goes like this: “Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus. Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen, Oh yes, Lord! Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down. Oh yes, Lord! Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus. Glory hallelujah!” Compare the song of that slave with the song Ol’ Man River: “We sweat an’ strain, body all achin’ an’ racked wid pain; ‘Tote that barge and lift dat bale,’ you show a little grit and you lands in jail. … I gets weary an’ sick of trying, I’m tired of living an’ scared of dying, but Ol’ Man River, he just keeps rollin’ along.” How can one slave bear his burdens singing “Glory hallelujah” while another despairs that, “Ol’ Man River don’t care if the world’s got troubles, he don’t care if the land ain’t free”?

The difference is Jesus, being yoked not to a river but to Christ who said, Come to meCome to me all you who labor and are burdened … Take my yoke upon you … and you will find rest for your souls.” “Come to me…” Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis writes, “Jesus turns to us with the sweet command that every lover wants to hear from the beloved, ‘Come to me.’ When we hear these words we know the time of waiting is over and the time for union has begun. … only those Jesus chooses can know the Father. He gives us this wonderful invitation, ‘Come to me.‘ It is the will of the Son to reveal the Father to us, … inviting us into the bridal chamber, to a Lover-God.”1

The wooden yoke that binds a pair of oxen or horses together to plow a field was described by Linus as an ancient symbol of enforced slavery. But Christ’s yoke is ours to freely receive or reject, “Take my yoke upon you,” he says. We have a choice to bind ourselves to Jesus or not. Take my yoke upon you And the yoke that Jesus offers has a deeper meaning. The Greek and Latin words for yoke also mean “to join together as spouses.” We are invited to a conjugal relationship with Jesus, to be joined with him as with a spouse, to share the whole of life with Jesus who loves us. By saying “Take my yoke upon you,” Jesus is saying, “Come and be my spouse.” The Lord wants to share with us his own divine Sonship. He invites us to share all goods in common, his strength, his wisdom, his love of life, his divinity and most of all his Father; and he will share our troubles, our weariness, our sins and fear of dying. Christ yoked his divinity to our human weaknesses, so that he might join our humanity with his divinity. Left to ourselves we would never be able to find rest from our burdens. We would never be free from our sins, our mistakes, our failures, our dark rooms.

Fr. Stephen What happens when we are yoked with Christ? He not only lightens our burdens, he brings us into intimate union with himself so that he can show us the Father. Joined with him by a marriage bond, our hearts expand and we begin to run in the way of salvation. That’s the difference between those who are tired of living and afraid of dying because they carry their resentments and burdens alone, compared to those who are yoked with Christ as their spouse. Sometimes we’re up, sometimes we’re down. But even our loses are important for Jesus knows the trouble we’ve seen. Not one tear is lost for those who have his Spirit dwelling within them, who makes all things work together for good. When we go home it will not be to a dark room, but to Jerusalem with shouts of rejoicing, (Zech. 9:9-10). So, Charlie Brown, tell that to little Linus!

Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey

[Scripture Readings: Ez 2:2-5; 2 Cor 12:7-10; Mk 6:1-6 ]

A sign in someone’s front yard read, “Talking Dog for Sale.” One prospective buyer went to the front door and asked to see the dog. The owner directed him to his backyard where a black Labrador Retriever was sitting on the lawn. The buyer asked the dog, “Do you really talk?” The Labrador replied, “Sure do.” Surprised and delighted, he said, “I’ve never met a dog that could talk before. Tell me about yourself.” So the Labrador Retriever told about his long undercover career with the CIA, all the eavesdropping he had done in high places, and his countless secret missions. The man was simply blown away. Excited, he went back and asked the owner how much he wanted for the dog. He replied, “Ten dollars.” Not sure that he heard correctly, the buyer repeated, “Only ten dollars! Why are you selling this extraordinary dog so cheaply?” The owner said, “Because he’s a liar. I’ve known this dog for years and he never did any of that spy stuff.”1

In Aesop’s Fables and Shakespeare’s plays we read that familiarity breeds contempt. Here was a talking dog, but the owner had grown pretty disgusted with its lies and exaggerated sense of self-importance. He was no longer impressed. He became like the people of Nazareth who had known Jesus so long that no amount of wisdom or reports of mighty deeds could change their minds that he was anything more than an ordinary manual laborer, a carpenter. They did not even call him by name, referring to Jesus only as “this man.” It is the scandal of the Incarnation described by Origen who writes: “We cannot understand how the very Wisdom of God through whom all things were created could have entered the womb of a virgin, and be born as one that screams and cries like any other baby.2 Familiarity with the ordinariness of Jesus blinded the people of Nazareth. “How can the Messiah, God’s Holy One, come from our very midst, from a carpenter’s son who used to go his mother to draw water at the well and carry her bucket!3 So, they took offense at him. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Br. Simeon, writes that, “Jesus’ Heart was full to bursting with the desire to confer life and love, to welcome people into divine fellowship in the community of the Blessed Trinity, and yet such longing was met by suspicion and rejection.3 The people of Nazareth forced Jesus out of their midst and he did not return there again.

If familiarity breeds contempt what are we to do? Must we forget what we know about others and become like children again? Jesus was rejected by his own people, by the Scribes and Pharisees, and by the authorities and crowds in Jerusalem. But the Gospels never show a child rejecting Jesus. A first grade teacher wondered what her kids would say if she gave them the beginning of well known proverbs and asked them to complete the sayings in their own words. Here are some of their responses:
It’s better to be safe than…punch a fifth grader.
Don’t bite that hand that…looks dirty.
A penny saved is…not much
When the blind lead the blind…get out of the way
Children should be seen and not…spanked or grounded.
A miss is as good as a…mister.
Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and…you have to blow your nose.

In their lack of familiarity with the original proverbs they reduced the wisdom of these famous sayings to their own level of understanding, their narrow view of life. The answer to contempt is not to become less familiar, because without familiarity you can’t breed anything, or, as Mark Twain writes, “Familiarity breeds contempt, and children.” With St. Paul, we want to “…know Christ and the power of his resurrection(Phil 3:10). We want familiarity and intimacy with Jesus. The answer to contempt and rebellion is not less knowledge, but more love. St. Paul writes, “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us(Eph 5:2).

It is not the ignorance of children that we are called to imitate, but their sense of wonder and love that drew them to Jesus who said, “Let the little children come to me for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven(Mt 19:14). A group of 4 to 8 year-olds were asked what love means. Their replies are surprisingly profound:

Terry, age 4: “Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.

Bobby, age 7: “Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.

Emily, age 8: “Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. Mommy and Daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss.

Noelle, age 7: “Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it every day.

Billy, age 4: “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.

Nikka, age 6: “If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.

May love keep our familiarity with those close to us from slipping into contempt, for Jesus lives in them.