The yoke of discipleship isn’t meant to be solitary

Homily for July 9, 2017 (14th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

I recently moved—for the fourth time in the past three years.  While itinerancy is part of our Franciscan charism, it sometimes collides with what seem to be the realities of modern living.  Every few months, I try to go through my personal things—books, clothes, etc.—and ask myself, “Do I really need this?”  Then I pack those things up and donate them to an organization that will get them to others who may need them more.

Yet for all that, it seems that I still have too much stuff!  Reality sets in when I have to move, lugging clothes, books, files, electronics, and other things.  Packing them, putting them in the car, driving to my new home, taking them up a couple flights of stairs, and then unpacking them can be a burden…and an invitation to keep asking myself:  “Do I really need this?”

The yoke of our possessions can be heavy; but there are others that are an even greater burden, even when they have a good and noble purpose.  That’s what Jesus found in the Jewish law.  The Torah was intended to bring the people of Israel closer to God, individually and collectively; but over time, various elaborations, interpretations and other accretions had become bound to it and were reinforced by the Pharisees.  What was intended to free people to be good and loving became a load that few could bear.

It was in light of this experience that Jesus, the embodiment of the hopes of Zechariah and the other prophets, offered them a different yoke.  It was at once easy and light in its simplicity yet also more demanding: a life of discipleship.  St. Paul encouraged the church at Rome to accept that yoke to move from life in the flesh (a life of self-centeredness, self-interest and self-indulgence) to life in the spirit (a life freed from the bondage of sin and centered on God, interested in doing God’s will, and self-sacrifice).

This is the life we have accepted through our baptism; the life in which we were sealed in confirmation; and the life in which we are nourished and renewed through our celebration of the Eucharist.  At times it can be a difficult life.  In a culture that encourages us to be more and more in control, life as a disciple often involves letting go.  At a time when social media enables us to publicly say whatever is on our minds—even in the crudest and sometimes most violent terms—life as a disciple means exercising self-restraint.  In places and situations where fear can drive us to adopt an “everyone for themselves” attitude, life as a disciple means living for God and others.

The good news is that the yoke of discipleship isn’t meant to be solitary and our burdens can be shared.  Jesus is here for us, and we are here for one another. +