09 July 2017

Two Steps: Yoke Up and Learn

14th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Last Sunday we heard a discomforting truth: it is possible for us to be unworthy of Christ. If you love anyone or anything more than you love Christ, then you are unworthy of him. We heard this truth not from some sneering traditionalist cardinal lurking in the Vatican but from Jesus himself: “. . .whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” To be worthy of Christ, to be made worthy of Christ we must submerge all our loves in Love Himself, surrendering every attachment; drowning our actual sins, our disordered passions, and our vices in the blood and water of the Crucified Christ. ALL sinners are called to the Church; ALL sinners are welcomed in the Church. We are ALL called to repentance and welcomed as New Creations in Christ Jesus – when we confess, repent, and receive His mercy. When we have received His mercy through repentance, Paul says of us: “You are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.” If only the Spirit of God dwells in you. How do we invite in and nurture the Spirit of God? Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart. . .”
Two steps: take my yoke and learn from me. “Take the yoke” is Jesus' way of saying “Take me on as your Lord.” When a plowman yokes his oxen, he ties the two of them together, and then he ties the yoke to the plow. The plowman controls the plow by controlling the oxen. If you want to get really fancy, think of it this way: you and I are the oxen, pulling the plow, the Church, and Christ is the plowman. When we “take on the yoke” of Christ we submit ourselves to his Lordship, his rule. We give ourselves over to his mission and ministry in the world. We are bound together – you and I – tied together in the Church to plow, sow, and harvest as the Lord commands. Now, being the lazy academic priest that I am, none of this sounds particularly enticing! Yet! The Lord promises just that: “. . .my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” I remember – as a kid – plowing and weeding a three-acre garden under a hot summer sun in Mississippi. I don't remember it being neither easy nor light. But the Lord's yoke, his work for us is easy and light b/c we have invited in and nurtured the Spirit of God. Whatever Christ the Plowman has given us to do, he has done before us. His work is complete. We're catching up – for our good and the good of the whole world.

The second step – “learn from me” – follows on the first. Once we have yoked ourselves to the plow of the Church and placed ourselves under the rule of Christ, we learn; that is, by listening and doing, we come to a greater understanding of who we are in Christ. Note well: yoking first; learning second. The learning flows from the yoking. If we want to stand back – unyoked – and try to learn about Christ, we can. We can gather all sorts of interesting facts and theories and stories about the man, Jesus Christ. We can come to all sorts of fascinating conclusions and even call ourselves his followers. BUT if we want to truly learn – to contemplate, to be transformed – we must first be yoked to Christ and through him to one another. And what can we learn from the yoke? To work together? Yes. To share a common goal? Sure. But we don't need Christ for that. Yoked to Christ and through him to one another we learn what can only be learned so yoked: we learn to become Christ. His work is complete. You and I are not yet Christ. Our work continues. And it continues only through his Lordship and the indwelling of the Spirit of God.
Question time: have you taken on the yoke of Christ and learned from him? Think back to last week. Do you love anyone or anything more than you love Christ? Have you taken up your cross and followed him? If not, then you are not worthy of him. Despite the best efforts of our secular culture and even some in the Church, we cannot “unhear” Jesus say what he has already always said. We have choices to make. Graced choices. Choices that we are able to make only b/c God loved us first. His love for us includes the freedom to accept or reject His love. Accept or reject. One or the other. We cannot accept the parts we like and reject the rest. Or reject it all and still fuss about claiming our inheritance. Lest there be any confusion here: God loves us all. The good, the bad, and the ugly. And He wills that we love Him in return. BUT He also wills that we love Him freely. When we choose to freely love Him, our lives change. We yoke ourselves to Christ and submit to him as Lord. We learn – through listening and doing – to become Christs for others. And like Christ loving his Father, we surrender, we sacrifice our lesser loves so that we might become perfect as He is perfect. 
The discomforting truth is that we can choose not to submit, not to put on the yoke of Christ and learn from him. We can choose to believe that our sin isn't really sin, or that our disordered passions aren't really disordered, or that our vices aren't really vicious. But reality doesn't bend to wishes and make-believe. If you will be who you were made to be – a New Creation in Christ, a living temple for the Spirit of God – you will take on his yoke and learn. Jesus pleads with us, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

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