In my study of Scripture, the Liturgy, and the Lectionary, I’ve always been encouraged by the fact the Liturgy of the Word for these summer Ordinary Time Sundays is designed to offer us a kind of toolbox for living our Christian discipleship. And that’s important because discipleship isn’t an easy thing to live, and it would be far easier to just throw it aside and never give it a second thought, which is what too many people do. But it can’t be that way for us; we know the Lord and have experienced his love, and so the only thing we can do in the face of that love and mercy is live the life he has called us to live. The only option for us is being disciples. And it’s not insurmountable for us, because we have the roadmap, the instructions if you will, for living that life. We call them the Gospels.
So these Gospel readings during the summer and fall give us the tools we need to live the Christian life. The tool we are being offered today is the tool of the virtue called humility. Now, you may be thinking, “Well, no thanks, actually. I may just leave that particular tool in the toolbox.” Because being a person of humility in our culture can be seen as something of a character flaw. For decades, maybe even longer, our society has encouraged us to toot our own horn, to look out for number one. “Believe in yourself” has been the mantra of Oprah and Joel Osteen, and all those other self-appointed gurus. But we have to remember that we have not been breathed into existence in the image of Oprah or Joel Osteen. We have been created in the image and likeness of God, and so we need to emulate our God as closely as we can.
So what does our God look like? Well, Zechariah gives us a pretty clear portrait today: “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.” So our Savior was prophesied to be meek and just, and far from coming into the city riding on a mighty horse of a king, he comes in on a donkey, the beast of burden employed by the poor. And that’s just how Jesus was, wasn’t he? He could have insisted on his glory as our God, could have chosen not to take on our feeble and flawed flesh. But he didn’t. He humbled himself, becoming like ourselves in all things but sin.
So today, Jesus invites us to that same kind of humility. He invites us to take his yoke upon our shoulders. A yoke back then was an implement that kept the oxen together so they could work the fields.
So a yoke implies a few things. First, it’s going to be work. That’s what yokes are for. So when Jesus says he’s going to give us rest, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be some work involved. Disciples have work to do in this world, living the Gospel, witnessing to God’s love, and reaching out to a world that needs hope and mercy and grace.
Second, a yoke meant that more than one animal was working; they were working together. So as we take Jesus’ yoke upon us, we are yoked to him and we are yoked to other disciples. Jesus calls us to work for the kingdom, but never expects us to work for it alone. That’s why his burden is easy and light: it’s still a burden, but we never ever bear it alone, Christ is always with us, and we always live our discipleship in community with other believers.
This model of working for the kingdom leads us right back to humility. If we are yoked to the community and to our Savior, that means that we can’t take sole credit for the mighty things we are able to do. Yes, we can do great things, but we do them because he has transformed us and has taken the yoke with us; we do them with the help of other disciples to whom we are yoked for the particular purpose of being God’s presence in the world. We are no longer men and women in the flesh, as Saint Paul says today, we are people of the Spirit, with the Spirit of Christ in us, and so in Christ we cast aside those deeds of darkness and, taking his yoke, we accomplish the work Jesus has given us. Saint Augustine once said, “Humility must accompany all our actions, must be with us everywhere; for as soon as we glory in our good works they are of no further value to our advancement in virtue.”
And that is our goal as disciples: to advance in virtue. Some days, that’s very hard work. But we never have to go it alone, if we are truly humble people working in the image of our God.