Try to imagine the level of frustration that Jesus must have felt with His disciples. He teaches them, shows them the way and corrects their mistakes and still they don’t understand what the reign of God means for them. They keep trying to live by an old set of understandings. Eye for an eye, lending while expecting to be repaid with interest, punishing instead of forgiving, being self-righteous rather than humble, and taking the seats of honor in high places rather than being lowly were the old and acceptable ways. Jesus said it cannot be that way with His disciples.
In the section of Matthew’s Gospel that we read and hear on the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, we are told that the true wisdom of God is with the lowly and the little ones. Those who claim to be wise and learned don’t have the wisdom of the reign of God. We are encouraged to put on the yoke of Jesus, to be attached and linked to Him and to walk and work in the same direction and way that He does. It means washing the feet of those who would betray us and dying for those who would kill us. But we’ve all heard this before. This is not news to us. We just aren’t sure we want to yoke ourselves to someone who talks that way and acts that way. Seems a bit radical, doesn’t it!
Setting aside our old understanding of power and riches to take on the yoke of Jesus is radical. Laying aside the old understanding of revenge and punishment to take on the yoke of Jesus is radical. He calls us to a different kind of living that causes us to examine how we live and how it matches the way that He lived. It can seem overwhelming and confusing but to Jesus it’s quite simple. Simple but not easy. We are to watch and listen to the little ones, the lowly ones, not the so called wise and learned ones. We are to listen to the poor and those living on the edges of society. Not just out of pity or what we can do for them, but as a source of wisdom and insight for those of us who might think we are wise and learned.
On one of my mission trips to Belize, I happened upon a farmer who was planting. He had already cleared the forest with a machete. He had burned off the stubble and had softened the soil. He now had a sack of seeds, a stick in his hand and a container of water. As I watched him, he meticulously made a hole in the earth with a stick, put in a seed, covered it with earth, and watered that spot. He went on and on, one seed at a time. I was mesmerized by his steadiness and patience.
When he finished the row where he was working, he noticed that I was watching. We know each other fairly well, and so I started a conversation about his family and his home. I knew that they had had a poor harvest the past year. I told him that I hoped that he had a better yield. He told me, “I do what I can, and God does the rest. I have a family, a home and a farm. I am blessed.”
He seemed so trusting and faithful. His testimony about life made me wonder how much I had taken on the yoke of Jesus. Did I truly believe that Jesus would take care of all my needs? Can I go in the direction that the yoke of Jesus takes me, even when it is clear that I am not in control? Do I find strength in Jesus or in my own efforts?
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.