Plaza de Santa María, Jaén//Photo credit: VBA

At a time like this when we all need a helping hand or an encouraging word, Jesus invites us to be like little children, “Come to me, all you who labour and overburdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart”.

– Fr. Dumlesi N. Tor

(Zech 9:9-10, Psalm 144, Rom 8: 9, 11-13, Matt 11:25-30)

The Church invites us in a special way to reflect on Jesus’ humility and his option for the poor. These virtues are very necessary for our Christian journey. Poverty really humbles one, especially, when it is freely chosen for the sake of the kingdom of God and in imitation of Christ. In today’s gospel reading Jesus speaks of himself as ‘gentle and humble of heart,’ inviting us to take on his ‘easy yoke’ and his ‘light burden.’ The first reading from the prophet Zechariah describes the humble king who in his triumph comes into the city riding on a donkey. Jesus claimed this image for himself on Palm Sunday.

The first reading prefigures and epitomizes the humility of the Christ who is to come. This reading is a hope raiser for all of us, the humble of heart and the poor in spirit: “Rejoice greatly, o daughter of Zion … behold your king comes humble and riding on a donkey”. To be a humble person is what is important to God.

When Zechariah put this prophecy about Jesus right after his prophecy concerning Alexander the Great, he was obviously inviting his readers to contrast the two conquerors. Alexander’s arrival brought fear to people, but the Jews were commanded to rejoice and shout because their King had come. Jesus was righteous in all that He did, and His purpose of coming was to bring salvation to those who would trust Him.

Alexander rode a mighty steed and proudly led a great army from one victory to another, but Jesus rode a lowly donkey and came in humility. The people who welcomed Him were common peasants who laid palm branches and garments before Him on the road. The great people of Jerusalem did not welcome Him, but little children sang to Him in the temple. Jesus could have brought judgment, but instead He brought grace and forgiveness (John 3:17). Instead of making a grand oration, Jesus beheld the city and wept over it; instead of slaying His enemies, He went to a cross and died for them!

The prophet projects the outstanding qualities of Jesus, the Messiah who is to come as a just, humble, and victorious king. He will do away with conflict and usher in a new era of peace, justice, and reconciliation among his people. Our Lord has every claim to the title and majesty of kingship, and yet he comes to us in humility and gentleness. He invites us “learn from me”. So, what am I to learn from Jesus today?

In the gospel, Jesus speaks about a yoke (burden). Everyone knows what a burden is. Some of our burdens are self-imposed. Sometimes we impose burdens on others. Some other times others impose it on us. They can be categorized as physical pains, mental agonies, anxieties, submissiveness, possession, calendar full of appointments, etc. At certain times we have all felt under pressure, stressed, or stretched to our limits. We all carry different burdens. Our burden might be that of sickness or old age, family difficulties or financial problems. It might be the weight of years of responsibility in some profession, career, or job. It might simply be the ongoing effort involved in trying to live a good and decent life. At some stage we have all felt overburdened by what life throws at us.

The question is what do we do about our burdens? At a time like this when we all need a helping hand or an encouraging word, Jesus invites us to be like little children, “Come to me, all you who labour and overburdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart”. Not many of us know what a yoke is nowadays. The yoke was the instrument that bound animals as they were ploughing the fields or pulling something. In taking on the yoke, one is obedient. In throwing it off, we become disobedient.

But there is another symbolic meaning of the yoke, and that is that there were always two animals yoked. For example, two oxen bear the yoke together. Jesus is saying not only to take up the yoke, but to learn from him in doing so. So, we do not carry our burdens alone. Jesus is standing with us and shares our burden.

In the second reading, Saint Paul dwells on a similar theme. He contrasts what he calls life in the flesh and life in the spirit. The flesh here is not the body in opposition to the soul but rather human life as cut off from God and turned in on itself. The spirit, on the other hand, points to human life as open to God and receptive of God’s gifts. We can only live spiritually if the spirit of God dwells in us. That is, if we allow God’s spirit to dwell in us. It is only when we are in the spirit that we can have the virtue of humility. The flesh only produces pride, pomposity, egoism, and all forms of such vices.

As much as we naturally focus in today’s reading on the gift that Jesus offers, it would be a distortion not to take seriously the demands that are expected of us as disciples. Although Jesus describes his yoke as easy and his burden light, this part of his sermon on the mount makes clear that turning to him demands a way of life that mirrors his own, it requires a definite turn – a conversion in the proper sense. The same teaching is to be found in Apostle Paul´s second reading. Those who receive the gift of the spirit are to live in way that correspond to and reflect it.

Peace be with you!

Fr. Dumlesi N Tor

St Mary’s Okwuzi