Homily: 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A
This weekend is a very proud weekend for our nation. On Friday we celebrated the declaration that the founding fathers of our nation made claiming independence from rule by the King of England. We celebrate this with a feast: hot dogs and hamburgers grilled outdoors that are shared with friends and family; and with lavish displays of fireworks: an extravagant display of the warmth and the passion that we feel for this nation that we call home.
That aside, however, what we celebrate on the 4th of July is the claim that we made on liberty. The independence that we declared was a claim to liberty from an oppressive system of government. It was not a claim to liberty from government, however, but rather a claim to liberty for a more just form of government. Our founding fathers knew that government was necessary to provide order to a society; but they thought that a government chosen by the people whom it would govern would better preserve the liberty inherent to each person. Freed from the oppressive burden of being ruled by the King of England, our founding fathers believed that the people could bear the much more gentle yoke of governing themselves.
When Jesus began his ministry among us he declared: “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” These were strong words and to those who were anxiously hoping for God to send his Messiah to restore his kingdom here on earth, this was welcome news. Like our declaration of independence, Jesus’ words seemed to be a declaration to the people of Judah and Israel that God’s liberation from their oppressive governors (that is, the Roman occupiers) had finally come. This, however, was only partially true. Jesus had come not to overthrow any particular government, but rather to claim liberty for mankind from the oppressive reign of sin. His goal was to restore to humanity the liberty that it enjoyed in the Garden of Eden.
Just look at the Gospel reading today. Jesus begins by saying, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones.” What was our first sin? Wasn’t it the sin of disobedience that led Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge? Isn’t it fitting, then, that God reveals the restoration of the liberty of the Garden of Eden to man precisely through those who are not learned; who have not, in a sense, eaten from the Tree of Knowledge?
Jesus then goes on to say, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father.” In the Garden of Eden God declared that it would be a son of Eve who would strike the serpent’s head and restore mankind to its first dignity. Thus we see Jesus revealing himself as that “Son of Eve” to whom God has given the power to restore humanity’s broken communion with the Father: for he says, “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
Finally, Jesus proclaims the liberty that he has come to restore. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Does anyone remember what the first practical consequence of sin was? The first real consequence of sin was death, right? But that wasn’t experienced right away. The first practical consequence, therefore, was something else. And what was it? Work! Labor! “By the sweat of your brow you will bring forth fruit from the earth” God told Adam when expelling him from the Garden. Now Jesus claims “I will give you rest.” Clearly he had in mind the freedom from oppressive labor that humanity enjoyed in the Garden of Eden.
Like the freedom that our founding fathers claimed for our nation, however, this freedom that Jesus claims for mankind is not a freedom from all rule. Rather, he claims our freedom from the oppressive rule of sin and death in our lives so that we can be free to follow the rule of obedience—that is, the rule of harmony with God that governed us in the Garden of Eden. This is the yoke of Jesus, the yoke that he claims is “easy” and “light”, and so it is: for it is under this yoke of obedience where labor truly finds rest.
Saint John Paul II once said, “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” My brothers and sisters, if we are free in this country it is so that we can pursue the life of freedom; the life “in the Spirit” that Saint Paul talks about in our second reading. The freedom to “do what we like”, however, is the life “in the flesh” that Saint Paul says leaves us as “debtors to the flesh”. Now anyone who is in debt knows that they are not truly free. Rather, they are chained to the debtor until the debt is paid. Jesus Christ came, however, to free us from this debt of sin and life “in the flesh” so that we might be free to pursue the life of freedom—life “in the Spirit”—in which we experience rest from our labors. This freedom restores to us the right to “do what we ought”: that is, to submit once again to the rule of obedience to God alone and thus to experience the rest our first parents experienced in the Garden. This, my friends, is a liberty worth celebrating with a feast and with fireworks: the feast that we share here today and the fireworks that we bring into the world as we go forth, proclaiming the Good News.
Let us, then, my brothers and sisters, turn to Jesus—and to his Spirit who dwells within us—and let us take up his gentle yoke (and, thus, lay down the oppressive yoke of sin); for his is the sweet burden of obedience to the Father that will lead us to perfect rest.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – July 6th, 2014