14th Sunday, Ordinary Time
Cycle “A” – 2017
Do you recall the scene from the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz” in which Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow, finally arrived at the end of the yellow brick road, at the very gates of the fabled Emerald City, and were about to meet the Wizard? All four had come with a request that they believed could be granted only by the Wizard! Dorothy wanted to go home to Kansas; the Scarecrow wanted a brain; the Lion desired courage; and the Tin Man wanted a heart! — Yet, when they were within inches of meeting the one person whom they believed could change their lives forever; they balked! — Their FEAR of the mighty Wizard of Oz, made him almost unapproachable!
Experiences like that, aren’t just the “stuff” of movies, either! Public figures, rulers of nations and even some religious figures are often surrounded by a certain “persona” that keeps others at a distance! — For example, no one may touch the royal person of Great Britain’s QUEEN Elizabeth – (not even to shake hands) – UNLESS the Queen initiates the action! In some places in the world, no one may turn their back on the sovereign; hence the need to shuffle backward out of the room.
PAPAL PROTOCOL is so demanding that a special committee oversees all papal audiences; and suggests proper attire, demeanor, etc. (Although, I understand, from those who have met him, our new Pope, FRANCIS I, places a high premium on getting “up close and personal” with the crowds that fill St. Peter’s Square to meet him!) — EVEN in our own country, (where we pride ourselves on the idea of the “equality” of all), PRESIDENTIAL PROTOCOL requires that staff members THANK the president each and every time they take their leave of him. — Gaining admission to the president is also subject to strict rules and regulations controlled by the White House Chief of Staff, and made all the more difficult in the wake of 9/11!
THE GOOD NEWS, however, is that even though we human beings REQUIRE that certain protocols be observed; THERE ARE NO SUCH PROTOCOLS WITH GOD! — National and religious leaders might cloak themselves in an aura of
UN-APPROACHABLENESS; but, today’s readings remind us that GOD IS UTTERLY APPROACHABLE – by EVERYONE!
In this (evening’s/morning’s) First Reading, for example, the Prophet Zechariah CELEBRATES the APPROACHABLENESS of GOD, who is anything “but” aloof and pompously “distant” from his people! — In fact, throughout the Scriptures, the God of Israel, the God of Jesus, the God who Jesus tells us to call “OUR FATHER,” – repeatedly ASSURES us: “I am with you”; “I have seen your plight”; “I have heard your cries”; “you are mine”; and “I am yours.” — So, when the Israelites fled the slavery of Egypt; God was “right THERE in the trenches with his people,” guiding them as a “cloud by day,” and as a “pillar of fire,” by night!
In describing GOD’S LOVE FOR and NEARNESS TO his people, the PROPHET ISAIAH used the analogy of a MOTHER who could “never forget” her child (Isa. 49:15). And, the PROPHET HOSEA, described GOD’S LOVE and NEARNESS, both as a PARENT, following behind his toddler; teaching his child to WALK; and as a PARENT who RAISES an infant to his cheeks; or stoops to FEED and ENFOLD his child in the arms of divine love! (Hos. 11:3, 4)
“IN the FULLNESS OF TIME, “ Scripture tells us, GOD’S DESIRE to be NEAR US, led GOD to make the “ULTIMATE GESTURE” OF DIVINE APPROACHABILITY! — (By, actually BECOMING ONE OF US, in the person of Jesus, His Son!) — THAT’S what Jesus is talking about in today’s GOSPEL when Jesus INSISTS that those who KNOW HIM – can also KNOW GOD who is REVEALED IN HIM!
Jesus THEN goes a step further, and INVITES: “COME to ME and find REST. LEARN from ME and BE REFRESHED.” — No appointment is needed! No protocol is demanded! No special attire is specified! — There is no blustering Wizard to appease; no finicky sovereign to placate! — THERE IS simply JESUS, made ACCESSIBLE in flesh and blood; made FOREVER PRESENT TO US in bread and wine!
And FINALLY, in the ULTIMATE EXPRESSION OF ACCESSIBILITY, Jesus INVITES US to let him WALK with us and help us to SHOULDER our burdens!
Now since few of us have ever set foot on a farm; let me take just a moment to explain what a “YOKE” – (the CENTRAL IMAGE from today’s Gospel) – IS! (And it’s NOT the yellow center of an egg!)
In the days before John Dear tractors, you had two choices if you wanted to plow a field. You could either plow it by hand – which was backbreaking and took forever; OR you could hitch two oxen, or mules, or horses to a plow, and let them do the PULLING, while you walked behind them, guiding the plow!
A YOKE was the fitted wooden COLLAR that was placed over the shoulders of two animals so that they could pull the plow, in UNISON. Since draft animals were expensive, a yoke was custom-fitted so that it wouldn’t chafe or bruise the animals’ necks. The two animals, thus joined, pulled TOGETHER; and together they exerted a much greater force, and got much more done!
A yoke, then, would enable US to carry out things that we might not otherwise be able to do, all by ourselves! — And since Jesus invites us to take up HIS YOKE, we have the assurance that whatever it is that God is asking us to do, is actually “DOABLE;” because Jesus is right there, “pulling” beside us, at each and every step of the way!
As I’ve said many times before, and will say many times again, nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus promise to take our burdens away. — We are still going to have financial problems; family stresses and health issues! — Maybe money has been especially tight in your home this past year. Maybe your neighbors are going away on a great vacation, and you aren’t even leaving town; much less the state! — Maybe you’re convinced that your parents don’t understand you. (Because they seem to either ignore you; or they’re on your case all the time.) Or, maybe your aging parent has fallen victim to dementia or Alzheimer’s and doesn’t always recognize just who you are! —– SORRY, BUT THAT’S JUST LIFE! — There are going to be times when we’re unhappy with ourselves; envious of friends and neighbors; and overwhelmed by the nitty-gritty (the day-to-day struggles of being a family member or a student or a spouse or an employee.) — Jesus never promised us that it would be otherwise! — But, JESUS DID PROMISE US is that, we WON’T be ALONE in dealing with our problems! — Yoked to him, we will find our burdens lessened and our sorrows shared!
And, because we’re YOKED to Jesus; our burden will NOT be MORE than we can SHOULDER! — In other words, while God may ask us to do things that we don’t WANT to do; God will never ask us to do anything that we’re UNABLE do!
The word “religion” comes from the Latin root which means “to bind together.”—– Today, Jesus is inviting you and me to allow him to bind US, (to YOKE us), to himself, in the good times and the bad; through thick and through thin!
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.” — THAT is JESUS’ PROMISE: He won’t take away our work or our pain; but he won’t let us be crushed by it, either. — He’ll make it doable for us, IF we let him. So, trust him! Allow HIS POWER to work IN you and FOR you! — YOU CAN COUNT ON IT!