Live in the Spirit and you will be transformed

  • June 22, 2011

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) July 3 (Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30)

What is strange about this picture? The victorious king enters the city on a donkey — the equivalent of a president or prime minister driving an ordinary low-end car. One might expect more flash and panache from a messianic king. But there is something else out of the ordinary.  This king is not bent on conquest or empire but establishing peace. In fact, he will deliberately thwart the efforts of all those dedicated to war and conquest.

All of this confirms that this personage is from God and not a product of human beings. The visitation of God never baptizes the status quo, nor will it give comfort to opinionated, fanatical or controlling people. God will shock most and outrage not a few for God’s ways are definitely not human ways.

It would be wonderful to have a divine figure who would establish peace and justice but this is not going to happen. God will give us the tools — the spiritual principles and guidance — to make this happen. But God will not force this on us, for God respects our free will. Far better for us to follow the example and teachings of the one who rides humbly into the city on a donkey than to just ‘let God do it’ or even worse to pervert the Lord’s teaching into instruments of violence or injustice.  

The Spirit cannot be taken for granted nor can one who is baptized simply assume that it will do its work. The sign that one is living a life in the Spirit is the orientation of their life towards love and service and their commitment to spiritual values. This is called living according to the Spirit.

The one who lives continuously in the Spirit will also be transformed. The usual human weaknesses and inclinations will lose their iron grip on them. Unfortunately there are many who constantly refer to the Spirit but whose lives bear witness to life in the flesh. This is a life that is centered on the self, the ego, and the gratifications of one’s desires. The needs of others are a very distant second on their list of priorities.

Paul exhorts his followers to enable the Spirit to do its work by patterning their lives according to its guidance. The Spirit is only fully present where its results are evident — loving, kind people for others.

Jesus does not have anything against people who are wise and intelligent. But even they cannot always be counted on to do what is right. Being intelligent does not necessarily mean that one is also a moral or spiritual person. And he wants to make it very clear that his teachings are not the product of some think tank or other human enterprise — they come from God.

This becomes very clear especially in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, because many of Jesus’s teachings are counter-intuitive. Just think of his insistence that we must love and pray for our enemies, or that we should not resort to violence but turn the other cheek. These are not common human practices — not then and not now — and they are not even respected by all Christians.

Jesus continues with the startling claim that God the Father has handed everything over to him and he is free to share it all with whomever he chooses as well as reveal God. The Lord does the choosing and it likely falls on those who have open hearts and minds and are willing to take what he shares and put it at the service of all. Jesus uses a rather dubious symbol for his invitation to follow him. The yoke is most often associated with slavery or oppression. But unlike worldly models, the yoke of Jesus is ‘easy’ and ‘light’ because it empowers individuals to meet the challenges of life with effective spiritual tools.

Jesus will not demand more of us than we can handle, nor will he leave us alone. He will walk alongside us as the other yoke-companion to help us with our burden. The yoke of Jesus is love and it maintains our spiritual connection with God, other people, and life itself.