Mission Society of the Philippines

Homilies

14th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: LEARNING FROM JESUS, THE TEACHER

Mt 11:25-30


WE HAVE ALL undergone the process of learning. That process has begun when we were still kids. We have learned so many things in this world or about the world by going to school. In religion, there are also what we call “things of faith.” And these can be learned too. In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds his disciples the true value of learning and the true knowledge of God.  He invites them to come to him and learn from him.

There are two parts of the Gospel reading or text for this Sunday. In these two parts, Jesus speaks about how the things of faith can be learned. Let us go back once again to the text.

The first part consists of a prayer of Jesus to his Father.  He prays, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones”. So, Jesus thanks his Father for revealing his message not to those who regard themselves as “wise and learned” but to the “little ones” or the childlike.   The so-called wise and learned can be very arrogant so that their minds are closed to ideas which are contrary to their convictions.  This was the situation with many of the Scribes and Pharisees who refused to listen to the teaching of Jesus and could not see the Word of God in his words and actions. 

Rather, it was his disciples, people of little or no learning, who were open to hear his message. This was possible because, in contrast to the arrogance of the Scribes and the Pharisees, the disciples of Jesus remain humble, receptive, and open to the words of Jesus. That is the key to learning the things of God. Their attitude is like our attitudes when we were still kids. We didn’t question our teachers. We simply listen to our teachers, and we trust our teachers that they have the knowledge to teach us. That is one beauty of being a child. A child can always receive a message that eludes the scholar.

I remember one video posted in the internet. It is about the dialogue between an atheist philosopher and a young student. It was rather a long dialogue. In a nutshell, the philosopher dissuades the young student from believing in God, since it is contrary to the law of science. Accordingly, true knowledge can be attained only by experience. Since God cannot be seen, heard, felt, tasted and touched, then there is no truth that God exists. But the young boy insisted on his faith in God. He says that God and the knowledge about God cannot be experienced by the senses. He throws a question to the professor: "Do you have a brain?" And the professor answered: "Yes, of course!" The boy argues: "But professor, no one in this hall has seen, heard, felt, tasted and touched your brain. In that sense, science tells us that you have no brain at all". And the people in the hall applaud the young boy.

The second part of the gospel is an invitation of Jesus. He says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me”.

Jesus invites all those who are tired to find rest in him. These are the people who are tired under the weight of the impositions and the observances which the law of purity demanded. Their lives were controlled by religious leaders who grew fat on tithes that they hoarded in the Temple instead of redistributing it to the needy.  Pharisees laid the yoke of their 613 commandments upon the followers.

And Jesus further says: “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart”. He asks people to leave aside the professors of religion of that time, to rest and to begin to learn from him, who is “gentle and humble of heart”. Jesus was different from the Scribes. Jesus is the new teacher who frees people from their burdens.

Jesus promises that his yoke is easy and his burden light. A yoke is a wooden bar which unites two animals enabling them to work together in harmony. When Jesus speaks about shouldering his yoke, he invites us to work in harmony with him.  He offers us an image of working side by side with him. However, a yoke, of course, can also restrict freedom. In our world today, when freedom is everything, restrictions on individual freedom are not always welcome.  To work so closely with Jesus may seem to pose restrictions which are difficult to accept. They may require some change in lifestyle and thinking. But there is nothing forceful about this relationship. It brings us close to one who is “gentle and humble of heart”, and it is a formative relationship in which we learn from that closeness to Jesus.

St Pope John Paul II was once called by a writer as a “prophet of freedom” because he gave some thoughts on freedom. He says, that following the Ten Commandments does not restrict our freedom, but rather it is an experience of true freedom. But if we reject the true good or to act freely against the truth is to erode freedom itself.

Indeed, some people think that distancing themselves from God, Jesus and his teachings would give them the freedom they want. They may do what they want, but often, they fell to some forms of enslavement (like vices). These do not make them free actually. Thus, Jesus is right. If we come to him, we can learn from him. If we cling to him, we become free of heavy burdens. Amen.


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