Sunday, July 06, 2014

God Comes to Us

Sunrise on the Sea of Galilee

(14th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year A; This homily was given on 6 July 2014 at St. Timothy Church in Warwick, R.I. and at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Cumberland, R.I.; See Zechariah 9: 9-10 and Matthew 11:25-30)

There is a specific, fundamental dimension of our Christian faith that separates us from nearly all other major world religions.  We see it clearly in our first reading this morning from the Old Testament, and certainly in the Gospel for this weekend, as well.  Negatively speaking, we do not believe that our faith is primarily a search for God or a quest to live as well as possible on this earth in preparation for heaven.  We are not, in fact, striving to make progress in this life as we move towards God, who waits somewhere in heaven to meet us in the end. 

No, what we believe is precisely the opposite.  What we believe instead, and what makes our religion and our faith distinct, is that God comes to us. 

God, who knows that we could never ultimately find Him and make our way to Him by ourselves, instead comes to us in great mercy, with remarkable gentleness and breathtaking humility. God reveals Himself, makes Himself known.  In our deepest need, our loneliest moments and in those many experiences when we are never quite expecting it, God comes near and seeks us out.  He finds us, and begins to guide us home.

In the first reading this weekend we listen to the words of the prophet Zechariah.  Zechariah is writing to the people of Israel just after the Babylonian exile.  Our reading takes place after one of the darkest moments in their nation’s history.  They had flagged in their commitment to the covenant of God; they were no longer faithful to the covenant relationship that God had made with them.  He had sent to them prophet after prophet, urging them to return to fidelity and to faith.  When they refused to listen He allowed them to be carried off captive to the Land of Babylon.

They had lost everything.  The City of Jerusalem was in ruins and the Temple was destroyed.  The Promised Land, where they had forged a new life with God and had made a new beginning, had become nothing more than a memory.  They resided in Babylon for years and many of them had died there.  Finally they are returning home and perhaps wondering how they will find God or even if such a possibility exists for them.  They had failed Him; perhaps they felt as if God would now abandon them forever. 

Suddenly the prophet Zechariah, at the outset of the restoration of the city, announces:

Thus says the Lord: Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O Daughter Jerusalem!  See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass.
—Zechariah 9:9

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, in their writing of the Gospels, will rightly see a direct connection here with the entrance of Jesus Christ as the Messiah entering the City of Jerusalem just before His passion.  God comes to us.  In our darkest hour and our deepest need, He comes to us.  In great gentleness and deep humility, He comes into our lives and creates a new beginning and a restoration of hope.

Such is the case in the Gospel of St. Matthew this morning.  Jesus finds a people worn, weary and heavily burdened.  Who among us could not identify with that!  He sees a people struggling to practice their faith and overwhelmed with the challenges of life.  He does not wait for them to figure everything out and make their way to Him.  No, He walks directly into their lives—literally God stands in their midst—and beckons:  Come to me!

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy and my burden light.
—Matthew 11: 28-30

God does not have the time for us to figure everything out and make our way to Him.  He comes directly into our lives, with gentleness and humility, and creates a new beginning for us.  He joins Himself to us with great love and teaches us how to walk with Him in this life and journey with Him to eternal life. 

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me . . . A yoke is a farm instrument—in Jesus’ time it was made out of wood—which usually joined together two oxen and allowed them to work in tandem as they plowed a field and worked the land.  Jesus is inviting us to walk with Him, to learn from Him, to discover Him anew in our lives.  He alone can give us rest, meaning and purpose.

This is the great lesson we find in the lives of all the saints.   St. Peter and St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Teresa of Avila, and countless others; they all came to the end of themselves and discovered that without Christ they could do nothing.  Every one of the saints had to declare spiritual bankruptcy before God and acknowledge that they were in desperate need of a savior.  They all took Christ up on His offer, took the Savior seriously and joined themselves to Him.  Will we?

Because we are all—every single one of us—called to be saints.  We are all called to holiness of life and eternal bliss with Christ.  And no matter how far we may feel from Him or how weary we become with the challenges and difficulties of daily life, there is always hope of that reality.  No matter how lost we may feel at any time in our lives, we can count on this: He will find us.  He will come to us.  He will invite us to be joined more intimately to Himself.

Jesus Christ comes to us here, now.  Whenever the Gospel is proclaimed, it is Christ who speaks to us.  Whenever we gather together for the Eucharist, it is Christ who make Himself present in His body and His blood.  He comes to us this morning, in great gentleness and breathtaking humility, in the humblest manner under the auspices of bread and wine that will become our God, present: body and blood, soul and divinity.

He comes to us today and invites us to Himself:

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy and my burden light.
—Matthew 11: 28-30