July 5, 2020
The Fourth Sunday after Trinity
St. Junipero Serra
(Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30)
Today’s Gospel reading is one of my favorites – especially verses 28 thru 30. It is also a passage that we more progressive Catholics like to cite as Jesus’ response to religious conservatives. Sadly, these exact words of Jesus can certainly be applied still today. Too many groups and ministers apply heavy burdens that make it virtually impossible for some followers to live a day without feeling they have failed. It is also why many have left the church or not joined one at all!
What was it that Jesus was talking about? Some like to translate this as meaning that those of us who are burdened by the heavy load of life can come to Jesus who will help them with their burdened life; that He will help them with whatever troubles them. To go to Jesus and He will lighten your load and burdens and make your life better. Although this view isn’t wrong, because indeed Jesus does want us to seek Him when our life is in turmoil, it is not what this passage is actually saying. It’s one of those in context things.
What Jesus was speaking of here is for those who labor and are burdened: burdened by the law as expounded by the scribes and Pharisees. In place of the yoke of the law, complicated by scribal interpretation, Jesus invites the burdened to take the yoke of obedience to his word, under which they will find rest. The scribes and Pharisees would be, in my opinion, the conservatives of today.
We well know that there are many “laws,” especially in the Old Testament, that we simply do not follow in modern times. Though the reason for this is more difficult than can be explained in a mere sermon, the fact remains that some of these “laws” simply do not apply in our modern context. They have been made unnecessary in various ways and for various reasons, and also because Christ fulfilled the “laws.” One example would be from the book of Acts in which St. Peter hears a voice speak to him.
“The next day, while they were on their way and nearing the city, Peter went up to the roof terrace to pray at about noontime. He was hungry and wished to eat, and while they were making preparations he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something resembling a large sheet coming down, lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all the earth’s four-legged animals and reptiles and the birds of the sky. A voice said to him, “Get up, Peter. Slaughter and eat.” But Peter said, “Certainly not, sir. For never have I eaten anything profane and unclean.” The voice spoke to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.” This happened three times, and then the object was taken up into the sky.” (Acts 10:9-16)
Now what does this mean? The vision is intended to prepare Peter to share the food of Cornelius’ household without qualms of conscience. The necessity of such instructions to Peter reveals that at first not even the Apostles fully grasped the implications of Jesus’ teaching on the law. The arrival of the Gentile emissaries with their account of the angelic apparition illuminates St. Peter’s vision: he is to be prepared to admit Gentiles, who were considered unclean like the animals of his vision, into the Christian community. The revelation of God’s choice of Israel to be the people of God did not mean he withheld the divine favor from other people.
As we know, there are many topics in the Scriptures that can be very divisive. Many items can be taken out of context. Many items can be twisted in any way someone wants them – to say what one wants them to say.
Some people church going Christians as inconsistent because “they follow some of the rules in the Bible and ignore others.” The challenge usually sounds something like this: “When the Bible talks about certain sexual behaviors as sin, you quote that; but when it says not to eat shellfish or that you should execute people for breaking the Sabbath, you just ignore it. Aren’t you just picking and choosing what suits you best?”
Many Christians have a hard time answering it. Which is why we just secretly hope it never comes up. Even I don’t like the question, because what I say in reply, I will always get the same response ….. but, doesn’t the bible say this ….. etc. However, it is always good to keep in mind that our branch of Catholicism has always taught “freedom of thought.” However, that is for another day ….
One of the most helpful ways to think about this is to look at the types of laws there are in the Old Testament. The 16th-century Reformer John Calvin saw that the NT seemed to treat the OT laws in three ways. There were Civil Laws, which governed the nation of Israel, encompassing not only behaviors, but also punishments for crimes. There were Ceremonial Laws about “clean” and “unclean” things, about various kinds of sacrifices, and other temple practices. And then there were the Moral Laws, which declared what God deemed right and wrong—the 10 Commandments, for instance.
For OT Israel, all three types of laws blended together. Breaking a civil or a ceremonial law was a moral problem; conversely, breaking a moral law had a civil (and often ceremonial) consequence. But they only went hand-in-hand because Israel was in a unique place historically, as both a nation and a worshiping community. “Separation of church and state” wasn’t one of their core tenets. That’s not the case for the Church today, so the way we view the Law would have to look different.
All of this helps explain what often seems contradictory about the NT view of the Law. On one hand, Jesus said the Law was perfect, that heaven and earth would pass away before the Law would fail (Matt 5:18). On the other hand, the Apostle Paul points out that those who are born again are actually released from the Law (Rom 7:1-6; Gal 3:25). As Jesus himself put it, he came to fulfill the Law (Matt 5:17).
What does it mean that Jesus fulfilled the Law? It means that every law pointed to him, and He completed everything they pointed to. Thinking of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law helps us see why we keep some of the OT commands and “ignore” others.
The Civil Laws, for instance, were set up so the nation of Israel could thrive. Jesus actually emerged from this nation, but He started a new Israel—a spiritual Israel, the Church. We’re no longer bound by the civil codes of Leviticus because God doesn’t have a nation-state on earth anymore. (At least from the Christian perspective.) Of course, we may wisely look at some of the principles in Israel’s civil laws as we think of our own societal politics (principles about public health, caring for the poor, etc.), but the specific rules were all fulfilled in Jesus.
The Ceremonial Laws illustrate for us God’s holiness, our unholiness, and what God would do about it. The entire sacrificial system should have ingrained into Israel’s minds just how large the gap was between sinful humanity and a perfect God—and just how costly it would be to bridge that gap. And as the book of Hebrews shows us, the sacrifices were all fulfilled in Jesus’ perfect life and death. If we accept Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice, we don’t need the lesser sacrifices anymore. In fact, it would actually be offensive to go back to them, because that would communicate that Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t sufficient.
The Moral Laws are fulfilled in Jesus as well, in that He kept all of them perfectly, every day, always, for His entire life. But unlike the civil and ceremonial laws, which were more time-bound, these laws reflected God’s assessment of good and evil, right and wrong. They reflect God’s character, and since His character doesn’t change, His views on morality don’t either. In fact, whenever Jesus mentioned the moral laws, He either reaffirmed them or intensified them! To follow Jesus is to love what He loved, including the moral law.
Now, even though we still defend the moral laws of the Old Testament, we have to keep in mind that Jesus fulfilled it all. The Christian is not under obligation to keep the moral law as a way of earning his or her way to God. Instead, we are changed by the presence of God’s Spirit to desire to keep God’s laws. Because God isn’t just after obedience; He’s after a whole new kind of obedience, an obedience that comes from love and delight in God. Christians keep the moral commands, not because “it’s the law,” but because they love God and want to be like Him.
So, His yoke would merely be the Golden Rule or the two greatest commandments. To love the Lord thy God with all your heart, mind and soul. And to love your neighbor as you do yourself. Following these commandments and following Jesus’ example in how He treated others during His ministry, and your burden is already lightened. No cagillion rules or laws to follow. Two simple laws and Jesus’ example.
Let us pray.
For the Church, that we may find ways to both preach the word and serve our neighbor, especially during this time of separation and crisis. We pray to the Lord.
For elected leaders, that they may serve with wisdom, compassion and humility all the people in their care. We pray to the Lord.
For an end to gun violence in our community and in our nation. We pray to the Lord.
For our diocese, that we may foster a missionary spirit and bring the message of the Gospel wherever we may go in the example of St. Junipero Serra. We pray to the Lord.
That, more and more, we will come to see the Lord Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life. We pray to the Lord.
For our nation, as we thank God for our national freedom this weekend, we pray for a deeper consciousness of the damage caused by systemic racism and the unwelcoming of immigrants seeking refuge. May American Christians be people of humility and openness. We pray to the Lord.
For all who are on the frontlines of this COVID-19 pandemic, especially our health care workers and first responders, for all who are unable to stay at home, but must work to provide for their families, may God continue to protect them and keep them in good health. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
You, gracious God, are love itself, and perfect love casts out fear. Come to us in merciful patience, we pray, to love us from fear to trust, from anger to grace, from doubt to faith. Love us from our self-centeredness to hearts that willingly give themselves in selfless sacrifice and service. Love us out of our scarcity to hearts overflowing with generosity. Love us from brokenness to wholeness, from resentments and forgiveness withheld to forgiveness freely offered just as it has been freely offered to us. Come to us, Lord, overwhelming us with your love that we might love as you first loved us.
Gracious God, we thank You for your promise to be with us and among us today as we worship You in a spirit of humility and holiness. We invite You to be our “true mirror,” to hold up before us Your Word in such a way that we see our true selves. Help us also to see in a new way the fullness of Your ineffable glory and transcendent grace and mercy. We await in the next hour Your word to us, that by it we may be empowered to live in the world, announcing Your rule of justice, reconciliation and peace. We await You in the loving of our neighbor and remembering that black lives do indeed matter. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Friend. Amen
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA
We are beggars.