The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time July 9, 2017
Zechariah 9, 9-10 + Psalm 145 + Romans 8, 9, 11-13 + Matthew 11, 25-30
St Joseph Parish, Norman, OK
It’s time for a little Greek lesson today, because there is a word in this Gospel passage that Matthew uses only twice. It was used earlier in the Beatitudes, and now it comes up again. The word in Greek is Praus. It is a strong word that is used to describe the taming or the domesticating of a powerful animal. Horses or oxen had to be “meeked”, and so it means strength under control, and so when Jesus says that he is “meek and humble of heart” he is really talking about his strength and his power. The Greek speaking Jews at the time Matthew wrote this Gospel got the point. There is no weakness in meekness. In fact, it quite the opposite: there is disciplined strength under control.
When Jesus says, “Come to me when you get tired, worn down, discouraged, or feel like you can’t go on any more”, he wants to share his strength. When Jesus talks then about a “yoke” you can understand the image he uses. That yoke is made and fitted on the neck and shoulders of strong animals to distribute and share a load evenly. This is a teaching from Jesus about power and what to do with it.
In the verses just before this text today, Jesus has scolded the towns that welcomed the signs and wonders he worked, but resisted his teaching. Those leaders he speaks to again and again have power, and they like it. Nothing much has changed since that time. This world still has its own idea about power. It belongs to those who seize it, and they use it for domination, oppression, and exploitation. In that thinking, the only limits to freedom are the limits imposed by my appetites. In this world, arrogance and a lack of care are signs of strength. “Be tough,” says this world, “go after what you want, and let anyone who gets in the way or who objects get lost! The weak and the vulnerable are just in the way. Too bad for them. They can take care of themselves.”
To that world and to those who think that way the Gospel seems naïve and senseless. They are so full of their ideas and opinions, that they can see nothing or think nothing about any other way or anyone but themselves. Along comes Jesus who turns away from them and reaches out to those who have been left behind, to those who feel as though they can never get ahead, to those who are like the children, dependent, and unable to make it on their own.
Power is among the greatest of temptations. Thomas Aquinas warns against it. “Learn from me” says Jesus, “For I am meek and humble of heart.” We have to become students, and learn from the master Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, he said: “The meek will inherit the earth.” From God’s viewpoint, the meek can be trusted with the goods of this world, because they are not going to exploit or abuse. Their relationship with the world and created things is not about power, but about wonder and awe. The meek have been invited to enter into the intimate loving relationship that Jesus shares with the Father; a relationship that promises life and gives hope because the master shares the load with us. So, the meek become the source of hope and optimism in the face of helplessness.