Homily – 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I am guessing that most (if not all) of us gathered here today have learned to ride a bicycle. I am also guessing that this was not something we learned to do on our own; someone helped us learn to balance the bike, gave us a gentle push to get us started, and encouraged us to pump the pedals and ride like the wind!
My two older brothers taught me to ride a bicycle. Their process for teaching me was less than ideal: They took me into our backyard, threw me onto an oversized, hand-me-down bicycle, gave me a strong push and hurled me forward. Their instructions were simple: “Either you learn to ride this bike or you crash into the chain link fence waiting at the other end of the yard.” It took multiple crashes into that fence, but I eventually learned to balance, pump the pedals and steer the bike. Out of fear for my life, I learned to ride a bicycle.
Today’s readings are about learning – learning to live as Christ’s disciples through the Spirit of God that dwells within us.
As we reflect on today’s Gospel (MT 11:25-30), it is important to remember that Jesus did not recruit the wise and learned scribes and Pharisees to be his disciples. Instead, he chose, what he describes as the “little ones” — those who were not particularly wise or learned, but whose hearts and minds were more open to Christ’s message of love and mercy.
Jesus knew that his disciples still had much to learn about their relationship with God and what it means to live as a disciple. So, Jesus encouraged them to yoke themselves to him. Jesus uses the yoke as a symbol of discipleship.
Now, we may not be familiar with this symbol, but the disciples were. They understood that to train a young, inexperienced ox to be used in farming, a farmer would use a yoke (a type of a wooden harness) to connect a young, inexperienced ox with an older, experienced one. The older ox pulled more of the weight until the rookie learned to cooperate. In time, after being tired out by its efforts, the rookie would realize the benefit of working in tandem. He would experience less chafing by the yoke, which made the yoke “easy”.
Jesus was not a farmer but, as a carpenter, he knew the importance of crafting a yoke that fit well and was “easy” to wear. The symbol of the yoke encouraged the disciples to not be overwhelmed in what they needed to learn, but to be patient and learn from the “meek and humble” heart of Jesus.
Jesus calls each of us to willingly yoke ourselves to him through the Holy Spirit. Like the the early disciples, we are called to be lifelong learners, ever growing in knowledge and appreciation of God. As Christians, we do not do this alone. St. Paul, in our Second Reading (ROM 8:9, 11-13) reminds us that, as baptized members of the Church, the Spirit of Christ dwells within us. Like an experienced ox, the Spirit helps us to continue to learn and to grow as Christ’s disciples. He calls us to work in tandem with the Spirit — with the yoke of gentleness and cooperation.
Jesus invites his disciples who labor and are burdened to come to him. The same invitation is extended to us. Like the disciples of old, we find rest in Jesus and learn from him. This requires a lifelong process of spiritual growth in which we rely on the Holy Spirit to help us keep our balance, to nudge us forward, and to steer us in the right direction in life.
How we do this? How do we yoke ourselves to the Holy Spirit? Through prayer, reflection, meditation, reading Scripture, journaling, etc. The options are many — we just have to commit to being lifelong learners and to allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit. In this, we will find spiritual rest in life, and eternal rest in heaven.
For fun, I invite you to have a family discussion this week and share your stories of how you learned to ride a bicycle. Who were the people who helped you learn?
I also invite you this week to reflect on the concept of lifelong learning and discipleship guided by the Holy Spirit.
- What does that look like in your life, to be harnessed to the Holy Spirit?
- Who are the people who help you grow spiritually?
- How do you continue to grow in your faith?
As we prepare ourselves to receive Christ in Eucharist, let us approach the altar with meekness, allowing the full power and mercy of this sacrament to transform us as Disciples of Christ.