I have to say, this is a slightly odd selection of readings that we have today. Zechariah’s prophecy in the first reading sounds like something from Palm Sunday, which in fact it is. This is the reading quoted in the Gospel of Matthew that we had at the beginning of the Palm Sunday Mass. The second reading from Saint Paul to the Romans sounds like something from Lent. And in fact, it is. During Lent we hear from this letter and we have hope that we who have been dead in sin can be raised up with Christ at Easter. Then we have the reading from Matthew’s Gospel, which I’ve already preached on twice this week: once for a funeral, and once for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart on Friday. So it might seem a little strange to hear these things on a muggy Fourth of July Weekend.
But what at first glance seems like an odd mix is really part of the toolbox that we get during these summer weekends of the Church year. We turn back to Ordinary Time Sundays today, for the first time since Lent began back in March. We’re wearing the familiar green vestments, and we’re getting back to the ordered Sundays of the year. Now that we can take a breather from the special things we celebrated during the Lent and Easter Seasons, and on the past two Sundays with the Holy Trinity and the Body and Blood of Christ, we get to read in the Scriptures about the ways that we should be living the Christian life.
These are what I like to call “discipleship Sundays” because they teach us how to be disciples, followers of Christ. In the readings during the summer we get to put together a toolbox of sorts that helps us to live the Gospel. So today, in this seemingly odd mix of readings, I think the tool that we get is the tool of humility.
Now as I say that, I think I can hear some of us thinking, “Well, no thanks, actually. I may just leave that particular tool in the toolbox.” Because being a person of humility can be seen as something of a character flaw. For decades, maybe even longer, our culture has encouraged us to toot our own horn, to look out for number one. “Believe in yourself” has been the mantra of Oprah and Doctor Phil and all those other so-called gurus. But we have to remember that we have not been breathed into existence in the image of Oprah or Doctor Phil. We have been created in the image and likeness of God, and so we need to emulate our God as closely as we can.
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? Since this reading is quoted in the Gospel for Palm Sunday, our minds turn to Palm Sunday and we can picture Jesus entering Jerusalem on a poor donkey. The crowds want to crown him king, but the only throne he takes is the cross. Jesus was a model of humility.
And that’s just what Jesus invites us to in today’s Gospel. 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. 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, he calls us to work for the kingdom, but never expects us to go 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.
Since he is always with us, that circles us back to humility. If we are not going it alone, that means that we can’t take the credit for the mighty things we do in Jesus’ name. Yes, we do great things, but we do them because he has transformed us and has taken the yoke with us. 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.