Be open to the spirit of God

  • June 27, 2008

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) July 6 (Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30)

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a majestic and powerful hero would come and fix all of our problems? Terrorism, the economy, crime, unemployment, all these would vanish before this individual’s power and authority. Unfortunately, most of those who make such claims and promises have very different ideas, and they demand certain things in return — our freedom, for starters.

Israel had the misfortune to be situated between warring superpowers and was gobbled up by one or the other over the centuries. This passage from Zechariah expresses a yearning for a king anointed by God who would protect and restore the nation. He would renounce all the trappings of power and wealth that had been the downfall of so many kings and princes. The first generation of Christians felt that this prophecy — although referring to events long ago — portrayed Jesus and they used it to describe His entry into Jerusalem. We could also look at this passage as symbolizing what is the most noble and spiritual in us. Our own collective efforts can put an end to many of the ills that afflict our world. We cannot evade our own responsibility, and it is dangerous to look for saviour individuals or ideologies to bail us out. For followers of Jesus, He is indeed the figure depicted in the passage, but not until His teachings are taken to heart and applied.

Living a life filled with the Spirit of God can be quite ordinary by outward appearances. Ecstatic experiences or miracles are not essential although they are certainly not ruled out. The negative tone that describes being in the flesh has nothing to do with our embodied existence nor is it meant to denigrate our physical bodies. Both spirit and flesh are biblical metaphors for two basic life orientations. Those in the flesh are merely the embodiment of the values, fears, prejudices and desires of human societies — the “world.” Their orientation is towards self — self-promotion, self-protection and self-aggrandizement. One who lives by the Spirit of God, on the other hand, is oriented towards God and towards others. They seek to serve a higher purpose and are motivated by a more universal and unconditional love. Now to be honest, most of us fall somewhere in between those two extremes. Basically it is a matter of which we desire and strive for as an ideal. And as for who has the Spirit of Christ, things are not always as they seem. Some who think themselves paragons of spirituality might be far from God’s Spirit, while others might be quite surprised to know that it is the spirit of God that animates them.

God the Father shares many things with Jesus that probably seem ridiculous in the eyes of those who are accustomed to the “normal” ways of our society and culture. His message is often at odds with conventional wisdom or what appears as common sense. But Jesus does not hoard this knowledge — He shares it with those whose hearts and minds are open to something new. Unfortunately, cynicism and fear often cloud human perception and the words can fall on deaf ears — even religious ears — unless they are willing to receive it with the openness and eagerness of a child. The word “yoke” does not evoke pleasant images in our time and culture. The expressions “yoke of slavery” and “oppressive yoke” are prime examples. So why does Jesus call His yoke easy and invite us to take it on? First of all, a yoke binds several oxen together and the burden is distributed among them. By carrying the yoke of Jesus He also bears part of our burden. But it means much more than that. Both “yoke” and “yoga” derive from the same ancient word root.  Within Indian traditions, yoga — a devotion and spiritual practice — is how the believer binds himself or herself to God and walks a straight path. The yoke that Jesus offers consists of love and it is the spiritual practice by which we remain bound to Him and to God. It does not promise us an easy life and we will still face our share of struggles and difficulties. It can be demanding and rigourous. But it is easy and light in the sense that it is not cruel or senseless and it is not a burden that we have to bear alone.