Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Pope Francis is known for his catch phrases.  For example:  “field hospital” when describing the church; “spiritual Alzheimer’s” when addressing the Roman curia; “Who am I to judge?” when responding to the question on Catholics that are gay.  A major theme running through his teaching, however, is that of “encounter”.  For Pope Francis, to encounter Christ is pivotal and necessary for faith.

The theologian Robert Barron—now auxiliary bishop—has said that “Christianity is not a philosophy, an ideology, a social theory or set of ideas”.  Rather, Christianity is “a relationship to a person and friendship with Christ”.  If there is no friendship—no encounter—then we have nothing to give another, and the church’s mission lacks credibility.  He uses the image of a rose window in a mediaeval cathedral to make his point; where Jesus often is portrayed at the center in stained glass.  When Christ is the “central dynamic of your life”, then everything else is ordered around that dynamic; like stained glass radiating from the center.   Everything holds together as we find the center and there encounter presence.

 In the gospel this 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus uses the yoke as an image when speaking on discipleship and our relationship to him.  Those listening to him knew well the kind of yoke used to plow fields.  Yet, they experienced other kinds of yokes in that occupied territory at the time; even today the occupation remains.   In his book, “Sabbath as Resistance” (a book I’m currently reading) Walter Brueggemann describes “the imposition of Rome and the demanding taxation of the empire” as a burdensome yoke during Jesus’ time, as well as “the stringent requirements of establishment religion”.  The religious leaders demanded many regulations and observances to be carried out to the letter.  In Jesus eyes, this missed the whole point of Torah and what had been revealed.

In the gospel, Jesus offers a different yoke to shoulder when he says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”  Encounter with Jesus—our life yoked to his—frees and liberates us.  This happens because it is a way of loving.  Like a Palestinian yoke used in farming,  the yoke Jesus offers is two-fold in nature because it involves love of God and love of neighbor; both inseparable in our encounter with Christ.

Many years ago and one afternoon, there was a horrendous downpour at the monastery; overwhelming the gutters and drain spouts.  The result was that the basement flooded.  It happened after Vespers and just before supper.   Many of us rolled up our monastic sleeves and got to work cleaning up the overflow.  I remember the joy and ‘lightness’ felt as we mopped up the mess together.  Together, we shouldered the burden; even laughing as we did.  I encountered community and the yoke of the gospel being lived out in a small way.

 As I reflect on a weightier matter—the current plan for healthcare, for example—it seems off- kilter when placed next to the lived experience of most Americans; as happened to the Roman Empire in Palestine centuries ago.  The current plan is just as burdensome and oppressive; a yoke with no wiggle room and underneath it all this attitude of no “free lunch” for anyone and ‘each man for himself’.

What the gospel emphasizes time and again is how our lives our yoked together and that true encounter with others keeps the ultimate perspective in view; what we lose sight of so much of the time.   It damns us, really, and separates us from Christ, our True Encounter.

Father Tim Clark, Pastor

 

 
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