Sunday, July 9, 2017

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

The Primacy of Rest

There is a group of insects which we see are very busy all the time. In fact the Holy Spirit has put up this group of insects as models of industry and antidotes to laziness. In Proverbs 6:6 we read, "Go to the ant, O sluggard, study her ways and learn wisdom."

Yes, we see that ants are very busy looking for food, transporting food, greeting other ants on their way. They seem not to sleep.

But they do. Ants do sleep although they do not sleep like humans. They take naps, plenty of naps. In one YouTube presentation ants are shown sleeping. We know they sleep because when they are touched by a tip of a ballpoint pen they just turn over, while those not fully asleep run.

What do ants have to do with our Gospel reading today? If we live like ants we would need the Gospel reading today. And many of us live like ants, always busy and never properly resting. Jesus invites us to rest. Jesus invites us to rest in him, with him and for him. Let us listen to him again.

"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."

When I looked at the commentaries on this text of Scripture I found out that almost all of the commentators dwelt on spiritual rest. They explained that Jesus was inviting his disciples to rest from sin, from the laws of the Jewish religion, from striving to do good with one's power.

Perhaps the reason why those commentators dwelt on spiritual rest was because they had no problem with their food, clothing and shelter. These were amply provided for them by their type of work, teaching or preaching.

But Jesus did not mean here only spiritual rest. Jesus did not say, "Come to me, all you who labor spiritually and are burdened spiritually by your sins, and I will give you rest from your sins and from worrying about your sins." He simply said, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest."

And remember Jesus here was not talking to Bible commentators, preachers or teachers or priests. He was talking to ordinary people whose main preoccupation was how to get their next meal.

Jesus addressed himself to all who were working and who found their work burdensome. He told them to come to him and get rest from him.

And this brings us to the primacy of rest in our lives. This passage clearly tells us that Jesus wants us to rest. He himself is an example of a person who takes rest seriously.

Genesis tells us that after creating the world and all that was in it for six days, he rested. Let us listen to this book, chapter 2, verse 1 to 3.

"Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed. Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation."

Jesus as God worked for six days as he created the world. On the seventh day he rested. He is a model of rest.

Many times Jesus told his disciples to go apart and take their rest. One such instance is recorded in Mark 6:31. There he told his disciples, "Come by yourselves to an out-of-the-way place and rest a little."

While we read in other passages of the Gospel stories that Jesus was accused by the religious leaders of violating the rest on a Saturday, he made it clear that that was not the rest he wanted us to observe, which for the Jewish leaders was merely ceremonial. Jesus wanted us to have real rest, not a mere ceremonial rest, like not carrying a mat or walking some extra mile, as specified by the religious leaders.

When Jesus created us he built within us a mechanism which would lead us to rest. That mechanism is the feeling of tiredness. When we feel tired, our body is telling us to slow down and take a rest.

This is primarily what Jesus meant in our Gospel passage. In effect he was saying, When you are tired, come to me, take your rest from me. And he was referring to any labor which made us tired, whether physical like plowing a field, or mental like studying, or spiritual like avoiding the occasions of sin. This is plain from the words he used. He said, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest."

This rest is so important that lack of it drove the Israelite nation out of the land God gave them. They were told by God through Moses that on the seventh year they were to make the land rest. "But during the seventh year the land shall have complete rest, a sabbath for the Lord, when you may neither sow your field not prune your vineyard." (Leviticus 25:4). The Israelites did not follow this commandment of God. So God exiled them and by force the land had complete rest for the period when it was not given rest by them. "Until the land has retrieved its lost sabbaths, during all the time it lies waste it shall rest while seventy years are fulfilled." 2 Chronicles 36:21

Even men and women of the world who may have no religious inclination emphasize the importance of rest. Here is one statement from Joshua Becker, in his article "The Lost Practice of Resting One Day Each Week", "Physicians, athletes, philosophers, poets, religious leaders, and corporate leaders all tell us the same thing: take time to rest. It is absolutely essential for a balanced, healthy life." He also says in that same article, "Rest is as essential to our physical health as the water we drink and the air we breathe." And he gives a quote reputed to have been uttered by Benjamin Franklin, "“He that can take rest is greater than he that can take cities.”

But the rest that Jesus is giving us is not like what most of us think. Most of us think that to rest is to sleep, to sit around quietly observing nature or meditating or going to a movie or watching television or simply doing nothing. No. The rest Jesus gives us is different.

First, he tells us to come to him. It is a rest in him and with him and for him.

Then, he tells us to take his yoke. The yoke was an instrument of work. It was put on the neck of an animal so it could pull something like a cart or a plow. Some commentators explain it this way. We are invited by Jesus to take our yoke as Jesus has already taken his yoke and Jesus and we both do our work. But because Jesus is stronger than us he exerts all the effort while we just go with him. This was the explanation given in the article "The Call To Discipleship: An Invitation To Rest (Matthew 11:28-30)" in

And this is also the message of our first reading. It says there that we are to rejoice because our king shall come to us, meek and riding on an ass. He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; the warrior's bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations. Jesus gives us rest from war and turmoil.

And in the second reading, Paul the Apostle tells us that we are not in the flesh; on the contrary, we are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in us. The one who raised Christ from the dead gives life to our mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in us. If we live according to the flesh, we will die, but if by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body, we will live.

This explains the rest Jesus gives us. It is a rest for our mortal bodies also. But it is a rest in the spirit, which puts to death the tensions and anxieties we feel in our bodies.

Thirdly, Jesus told us to learn from him. This is still part of our rest in Jesus. While resting we listen to Jesus as he teaches us. There we find rest. We imitate Mary the sister of Lazarus who just sat in front of Jesus listening to his words. Mary found rest in Jesus. So too can we if we just sit and listen to Jesus.

There was a hymn in our churches before which we sang during communion time. It was entitled “O What Could My Jesus Do More”. It will be worth our while to take that hymn as our prayer. That hymn tells us that true rest, whether physical, mental or spiritual, is only in Jesus.

Let us bow our heads as we listen to the first stanza of this hymn:

O what could my Jesus do more 
Or what greater blessing impart
O silence my soul and adore 
And press Him still nearer thy heart.
Tis here from my labor I'll rest 
Since He makes my poor heart His abode.
To Him all my cares I'll address 
And speak to the heart of my God. Amen.

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Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

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