The following homily was delivered by Jim Penczykowski at Sunday Assembly at Holy Wisdom Monastery on July 3, 2011.
Does anyone here have an identical twin?
Are identical twins truly identical in every respect or can we say that even those who share identical chromosomes are unique?
I dare say that most of us relish the thought that “I am unique in all the world.”
Not only individual persons, but also groups and communities of persons fancy themselves as unique in the entire world.
We like to set ourselves apart.
We like to see ourselves as special.
We also often like to see ourselves as superior in some way.
If we seem destined to be clannish it must serve some purpose.
Perhaps our clannishness helps us survive and even thrive.
Of course the downside of clannishness is the blood feud or war; and, alas, we humans are all too familiar with shedding blood in the name of our clan or nation or religion.
But I do not want to linger too long on the downside of our penchant for uniqueness.
The passage from the Good News according to Matthew today has much to do with the strength that a group of people will exhibit when they see themselves as special in the most positive and uplifting way possible.
The term “little ones” or “infants” comes up in our passage and helps to identify a very special group of people or possibly two very special groups of people.
Jesus, in his prayer thanks God for revealing his relationship to God only to the ones chosen, which are the little ones or children or infants.
This is the term Matthew’s community used to describe itself and its members.
These are the ones chosen to receive and accept the revelation that Jesus is the Son of God.
John the Baptist does not understand what Jesus is about because he has his eyes on the past.
The people caught up in their own self-interest resist the revelation.
The cities and towns surrounding the lake region of Galilee will not open themselves to the message.
The scribes and doctors of the Mosaic Law are incapable of understanding because they judge everything according to their knowledge.
Jesus’ own relatives do not understand him.
The little ones who first heard Jesus were the outcasts, the tax collectors and sinners, those who were ritually impure and could not approach the temple to offer sacrifice. They were shunned and ostracized by their fellow Jews; to mingle with them was to risk the taint of impurity.
Jesus shows no compunction about befriending these outcasts.
Because they do not throw up roadblocks to Jesus’ message.
They have already lost their status in the community; they have nothing to lose by listening, really listening to Jesus.
A heart that is hardened or a heart that is full of its own certainties is not open to a new message; a heart that is emptied out is ready to be filled by the Good News.
These are the first of the Little Ones.
The Little Ones of Matthew’s community are the Jewish Christians living in the Diaspora of Syria after the fall of Jerusalem, wondering, “What just happened?”
“Did we not worship with all of our fellow Jews?”
“Did we not shoulder the yoke of the law of Moses?”
“We did not cause the Romans to destroy the Temple.”
“Why are we shunned and put out of the synagogues?”
These, too, are the little ones whose hearts have been sufficiently emptied that they can listen and accept the Good News of Jesus and really know God.
So the little ones are chosen to know the God of Jesus, the God Jesus calls his Abba.
The little ones are chosen to follow Jesus; God has handed them over to Jesus.
What is next?
Shoulder the yoke of Jesus.
Now take just a moment to savor this image and let your senses take over.
Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
What are the burdens that weary us so?
Are they not either some guilt about past failure or some worry about the future?
For much of our world the wearying burdens are all too physical as well as spiritual. While I am tempted to offer a partial list of wearying burdens that we humans shoulder, it might be better if I give you 30 seconds to think about, or better yet, to sense, your own burdens and the burdens of your loved ones.
Allow each breath in this half-minute to count for one burden that you can take to Jesus.
Now when Jesus says, “I will give you rest.”, he must intend that we lay these burdens down. Often easier said than done, perhaps we can visualize ourselves asking Jesus to remove the burdens we and others shoulder, the ones we find difficult to lay down on our own.
What follows then are some of the most comforting words ever written, “Shoulder my yoke, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Jesus instructs the Little Ones in Galilee, the Little Ones of Matthew’s community in Syria, and Little Ones here in Madison, Wisconsin to shoulder the yoke of intimacy with him and his God.
To approach Jesus requires not ritual purity, but an open and emptied heart.
So you are special, you Little Ones.
Jesus chose to reveal God to you. And Jesus chose you to reveal God.
That is what makes you so special.
You and I are sent out with the mission to reveal God to our world.
You and I as church are responsible to be a place of rest for all those who shoulder heavy burdens.
You and I have the challenge to learn from Jesus how to gain and maintain gentle and humble hearts.
Jesus concludes, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
To further illuminate this statement, I quote from an anonymous writing in the first centuries of Christianity.
The prophet says this about the burden of sinners: “Because my iniquities lie on top of my head, so they have also placed a heavy burden on me.”
…”Place my yoke upon you, and learn from me that I am gentle and humble of heart.” Oh, what a very pleasing weight that strengthens even more those who carry it!
For the weight of earthly masters gradually destroys the strength of their servants, but the weight of Christ rather helps the one who bears it, because we do not bear grace; grace bears us.
It is not for us to help grace, but rather grace has been given to aid us.
– Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 29 (Anonymous)