Fourteenth Sunday of the Year
Today’s readings capture the spirit and thoughts of Pope Francis in Laudato si’ and Fratelli tutti that point out the unity of all creation and humankind. All celebrate unequivocal peace as opposed to war and disregard for and destruction of Mother Earth. In the first reading, God is described as completely opposed to war where the chariots from Ephraim and warhorses from Jerusalem need to be banished and the warrior’s bow (weapons) will be banished from all nations, not just Jerusalem. The responsorial psalm speaks of God’s mercy and compassion for all creatures and not to just one race or nation.
Paul today tells us that rejection of war and violence manifest the Spirit alive with us. God’s Spirit is about lifegiving, not death dealing. It dwells within each one of us. When Paul talks of ‘flesh,’ ‘body,’ ‘mortality,’ ‘darkness,’ and ‘death,’ he is referring to individualism, division, and separation. These lead to neglect, violence and disregard for others which the so-called learned and wise consider and justify as realistic and practical. Jesus’ words emphasise the unity of humankind and linked with all of creation. This is the single easy ‘yoke.’
According to Jesus, his message or ‘burden’ is not dark, heavy, or difficult to understand. Even the most unlearned (‘the little ones’) grasp it better than the ‘wise’ and ‘learned’ who continue to dismiss God’s vision in Jesus’ teaching as impractical, stupid, suicidal, utopian, unrealistic, and naïve. Like the pontificate of Pope Francis, they see it as a ‘splendid catastrophe.’ They emphasise separation, individuality, competition, nuclear weapons, and ‘mutually assured destruction’ (MAD). Those of the Spirit see mercy and compassion, nonviolence, and peace as the realism of God. Though depicted as hopelessly idealistic in a world where force and competition define human survival, Jesus describes the most effective approach to living a full and successful life as opposed to the self-defeating selfishness, avarice, envy, violence and pride that can lead to the breakdown of community.
In calling the disciple to embrace the simple faith of “little ones,” Jesus is not suggesting something “dumbed down” but to a faith in action centred in the “simple” but profound love, compassion, and hope of God: a love that is not compromised by self-interest and rationalisation; and a compassion that is not measured or conditional.
As in previous weeks, we sense the compassion rising in Jesus’ heart for the ‘little ones.’ Jesus addresses those burdened and oppressed by rules and regulations imposed by religious authorities. Today, many people are shackled to systems and oppressed by racism, poverty, and violence in their communities. Jesus’ promise to these unjust burdens is ‘I will give you rest.’ Jesus challenges us to look at our values, and where we situation ourselves, in a world where power and control are prioritised. Jesus’ invitation to rest is not passivity but an active invitation amid suffering. The “wise” display their self-centeredness and tyranny. The “little ones” are the common people comprising of the sick, persecuted, and marginalised people seeking healing and liberation. The ‘rest’ in the gospel is about raising awareness and crying out for release from burdensome unjust laws and practices and resistance against all forms of exploitation. Practicing rest is engaging in the process of change. It is the work of everybody to create a society that actualises the life God desires for us as siblings of one another.
The countercultural image of the donkey in Zechariah offers represents the God of peace and confronts those with weapons bully others whether military, corporations, and church. Jesus’ solidarity with the ‘little ones’ was a biting critique of their way of life. The presence among us of the ‘little ones’ are themselves a biting critique of our way of life.
Jesus reveals God’s connection with people caught up in the widespread effects of the sins of injustice, all kinds of slavery, conflict, and prejudice. Jesus enters this devastation with liberation, justice, peace, and mercy. Human brokenness is before us. We see it among homeless (houseless) people who are blamed for their predicament; in unjust economic and power relations between rich and poor; in various forms of slavery; in people excluded from social welfare because they do not fulfil certain criteria; in the expedient exploitation of the earth’s resources which is a violation of the sacredness of the earth and theft from the caretakers of the earth and future generations; in corrupt business and government; in lies and armaments that lead to wars; conflict between factions, families and individuals. Looking at all this, Jesus’ invitation may seem ineffectual and belief in his liberating reign naive. We cannot address these burdens and alone. We need the spirit of Jesus, and one another, to empower us as we express our faith in daily choices impacting on others. The problems seem vast, but we can all sow seeds of care, welcome, humanity, compassion, kindness. We can amplify voices not heard, give courage, work alongside the least and stand against unjust people and institutions that oppress and enslave.
But God never leaves well enough alone. God is always creating, always redeeming, and always moving. God is present wherever people seek liberation. Many may not agree, but God was present at Stonewall redeeming the violence into a movement to bring liberation for God’s people; God was present when Catholic Acceptance was founded 50 years ago to offer safety for people to practice their faith in action and be free of their shame. This is replicated repeatedly. Each person’s struggle and story is a part of the fabric that binds people together. God loves us too much to leave us alone. God loves us too much to let us hide behind our masks. God continues to do new things in each of us.
We need to acknowledge that the broken and weary ones are with us in every family, community, and neighbourhood. US Episcopalian Bishop Michael Curry, says, ‘We need some Christians who are as crazy as the Lord…..Crazy enough to dare to change the world from the nightmare it often is into something close to the dream that God dreams for it. And for those who would follow him, those who would be his disciples, those who would live as and be the people of the Way? It might come as a shock, but they are called to craziness.’
Pope Francis has reminded us that to really understand the God’s Reign, we need to look to and ask the ‘little ones’ in society who have a special place in God's heart. It means listening to the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth whose futures are entwined. This is one important way that God speaks to us and it speaks with authority.
Be careful how you live. You may be the only gospel your neighbour ever reads.