Based on the readings for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C
235 years ago a weak confederacy of colonies stood up to the superpower of their day, Great Britain. The representatives of the colonies desired to live not as servants of a despotic ruler King George III but as free men and women. They gathered in a sealed room in hot, muggy Philadelphia and wrote a Declaration of their rights and proclaimed themselves free of tyranny.
We give thanks, of course, for we are the heirs of their vision, the courage of our nation’s founders to stand up to power and declare that forces of the enemy of freedom had no power over them. As citizens of the United States we rejoice in the founding of our nation this weekend.
Into this celebration, though, the Lord Jesus speaks a word of caution. As a nation we’ve come to think of ourselves as the most powerful nation on earth. The American “can do” spirit tells us that strength of character will lead to success. Strength and power can do much good. But in the Kingdom of God that we claim to be citizens of by our presence at the Eucharist weakness is exalted. The powerless, those without influence (think children) are the heroes of the story when Jesus tells us about living in the kingdom.
What did we just hear?
“I praise you Father, for you have hidden the truth from the wise and learned (that is the strong, the scientific, those in charge), revealing it to ‘little ones’ (think children, those on the fringes of society, the poor with no resources of their own).”
“See, your king comes riding meekly on ass, getting rid of powerful weaponry.”
Being powerful, having the ability to determine your own destiny can be a drug that clouds the mind. Having the ability, whether you’re a nation or an individual, to control situations by the force of power can fool us into thinking we’re in charge of our fate, that we can make life bend to our will.
Then comes the reality of death, be it our own death or the deaths we witness of family or friends or even the strangers we see on the T.V. news. We see that all the military might we throw at terrorism doesn’t stop the killing. We see that science still hasn’t solved the problems of hunger, poverty or disease. At some point humanity (and each of us) needs to accept the truth. We are as powerless as children are to control their lives. We must recognize that we, despite all our human strength manifested in technology, weaponry and science are powerless against death. We may be free to do what we want, but it’s an illusion of freedom if we rely on any form of domination of our world.
True freedom comes from handing our lives over to God! When we recognize we’re powerless, then we’ve taken up the yoke of Christ. True humility comes from acknowledging we need God to save us from the power of death we unleash upon the earth in our hubris. The yoke Christ speaks of when he says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me” is his cross! The humility Christ speaks of is to let God be God and to stop being so proud of our human achievements.
The Spirit of God can do far more than our human sciences and inventions can do. I mean, really, the Spirit of God brought Jesus back to life! The Spirit of God destroyed the power of death, the most powerful force humans experience. People can’t stop death from destroying human life, but the Holy Spirit stopped death in it’s tracks and tamed it. Death, in the hands of Jesus becomes a tool, a tool that builds a new world where death doesn’t exist; a new reality where life is perfected. Just like a yoke is a tool placed on the shoulders of animals and humans to help accomplish the work of farming, Jesus placed the cross beam on his own shoulders and accomplished the work of bringing the power of eternity to those who were powerless against the force of death.
How do we “take my yoke upon ourselves and learn from Jesus?” We get involved in the life of Christ by participating in the life of the church, his body on earth. We get baptized and share the eucharist. We practice stewardship of time, talent and treasure, giving something of ourselves away so that others can live. We offer ourselves sacrificially, unselfishly to others to enrich their lives and discover that our life becomes richer in return. How do we take up the yoke of Christ. We certainly don’t try to dominate people, we don’t engage in violence against other humans. We embrace powerlessness and stop worrying about what is this going to cost me. Everything we have was given us by God and he’ll take the offering of our lives and turn the moment of our ultimate powerlessness, our death, into something beyond our imagining, life in its fullest sense.
This weekend, as we celebrate the freedom our national ancestors bequeathed to us taking a chance that their weakness would not be an obstacle to victory against tyranny…
Let us not be fooled by empty promises of power but remember that in the big picture our only hope as humans, powerless against the tyrant death, is to accept the invitation of Jesus to die with him, powerless on the cross. Humbly, in this Eucharist, let us give thanks to God “for considering us worthy to stand in his presence and serve him,”the King who has fought in the trenches of human existence with us and won the victory.
 Roman Rite: Eucharistic Prayer II