Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Lowly vs. the Learned

This was the first weekend at my new parish, Holy Name in Sheridan, Wyoming, and it was a cool gospel to get to preach on. What we see in today's gospel reading is a rare thing, because we are privileged to listen in on a private prayer between Jesus and his Father. This only happens two other times in Matthew's gospel: in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross. So when an event like this has such significant parallel events in the gospel, we need to pay attention. The first thing we need to understand is the context in which Jesus offers this beautiful prayer. Just before this, we read about the people and the various cities that have rejected Jesus, those who have said "We don't want what you have to offer." And it is in this context, immediately on the heels of this rejection, that Jesus offers this prayer to the Father.

And what he has to say in this prayer should bring great hope to us. In this prayer, we learn how the gospel that Jesus brings is not a gospel of reassurance for the big, the mighty, the powerful, but is rather a gospel of hope for the little, the lowly, and the humble. When Jesus says "these things" ("You have hidden these things from the wise and the learned," and "All things have been handed over to me by my Father"), he seems to be referring to the miracles he has already performed, which are signs of his authority, and to identity of Sonship, which speaks to his identity as God. These things, the authority and identity of Jesus, the wise cannot understand because God has given them to the lowly.

God has always had a special place for the humble. Abraham was a 75 year old man when God called him to travel to the Promised Land. Israel was an enslaved people in Egypt when God called them to be a great nation. Peter was a backcountry fisherman with a propensity for sticking his foot in his mouth when Jesus made him the rock of his new Church. What is it about the little ones that God finds so irresistible? I think it is that the little ones, lowly, the humble, recognize more readily their relation to God than the wise and the learned do. The little ones can look at what God has to offer and say "I do want what you have to offer. I need what you have to offer." But the wise and the learned often get confused about their relation with God. The little ones recognize more easily that God is everything and I am nothing. The wise and the learned often do not depend on God as readily. Not that wisdom and learning are a bad thing (kids, you still have to go to school), but they are not the source of our salvation. Dependence on God is.

But in case Jesus' prayer to the Father left any doubt about how they feel about the wise versus the little ones, in the second half of this gospel passage Jesus shifts from speaking to his Father to speaking to you and me, his disciples. "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart." If we get our wisdom from Jesus, rather than from the world, then he will teach us what it means and what it looks like to be meek and humble of heart. He says his yoke is easy, and his burden light. He doesn't say there won't be a yoke or a burden, but he says they will be manageable, if we go to him. If we try to do this Christian thing on our own, if we try to "love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves" without Christ, we will find that to be an impossibly heavy burden.

So the thing to keep in mind as we try to live the Christian life, as we try to be disciples of Christ, is that it fundamentally means relying on Christ. Often we try to live as Jesus taught, but we try to live it on our own, without relying on Jesus, and then the yoke is not easy, and the burden is not light. We think "If I work really hard, I can be a good Christian." But I can't get there on my own. On the other hand, if we take his teachings and his help to live those teachings, through constant prayer, through recourse to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and confession, then we find that that the yoke does start to be come easier, and the burden is lighter.

Relying on Christ doesn't make the difficulties of being a Christian or all the other difficulties of this life go away, it just means that Jesus is with us through them, and that is powerful indeed. So find that one situation in your life, whether it's at work or at home or wherever, that you've been trying to manage on your own, and when you go to the altar here, surrender it to him. Even if it's just for a little bit while you're at church, hand it to Jesus and let him make your burden a little bit lighter.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Father Brian, When I saw "Sheridan" I had to see the rest. I lived in Sheridan and made my First Communion there at Holy Name back in the forties. Looks as though there is a new building there now. One thing I remember was that the Indians sat in the rear pews and the only black person we ever saw was the porter on the train. but we tsk tsked racism, not seeing the log in our eye. I wonder what it is like now?
    Letty Baker.