May the One who makes peace in the heavens let peace descend on us all, and let us say: Amen.
May Adonay give strength to our people; may Adonay bless our people with peace; may Adonay bless all people with peace. And let us say: Amen.
– Birkat Hamazon
The readings for the fourteenth Sunday in ordinary time cycle A can be found here.
The scripture scholar will tell you these verses can be broken down into 1) thanksgiving for divine wisdom, 2) the unveiling of the wisdom itself and, 3) an invitation to be part of the God’s revelation. The Cry of Jubilee is a typical Jewish blessing of thanksgiving and this leads into Jesus’ call for us to follow Him.
In the call of Jesus there is the theme of the yoke, which Jesus asks us to take and ease our burdens. We will focus on the yoke in the Homily today. To help us better understand what taking a yoke might mean I would like to introduce you to the Norman Yoke, commonly referred to as the Domesday Book. This Norman Yoke began in 1066 right after the Battle of Hastings when the Norman King William I took over England.
To further extend his grip on England, William I ordered that a book be made containing information on who owned what throughout the country. This book would also tell him who owed him what in tax and because the information was on record, nobody could dispute or argue against a tax demand. This is why the book brought doom and gloom to the people of England – hence “Domesday Book”. The decision of what someone owed was final – rather like Judgement Day when your soul was judged for Heaven or Hell.
– History Learning Site
As you might have guessed the Norman Yoke was a heavy burden and not pleasant. The yoke has the reputation of being something we would try and avoid rather than take up. The question we might ask ourselves is why would we want to take up the yoke of Jesus? What was the burden of the yoke carried by the Jewish people? How would Jesus’ yoke be lighter? All good questions. We should begin with the Yoke of Torah.
One who takes upon himself the observance of the 613 commandments and the even larger corpus of rabbinic laws, enactments and customs, would seem to be surrendering his freedom, subjugating his personal freedom to the legal and moral framework of Judaism. Even the nomenclature used by the Rabbis supports this view. They refer to the observance of Judaism as the yoke of Torah and the commandments, purposely choosing the word yoke which, throughout Scripture, denotes burden and coercion. He who leads an observant lifestyle is described as within the four cubits of the Law, conjuring up an image of confinement and constriction.
– Dr. Saul Stokar
Jesus promises to reduce the confinement of the Jewish laws to two simple acts; love God and love your neighbor. This yoke of Jesus does seem very easy and the burden much lighter compared to 613 commandments and the rest of the Jewish laws and customs. While the words used to describe the yoke of Jesus are fewer one might argue that keeping them is much harder.
Jewish laws were many, but there was a clear line on what to do and how to do it. This is arguably simpler because you don’t have to think about what to do. The requirements are rigid and unbending but you always knew where you stood. Upon hearing Jesus’ command to love your neighbor, some had to ask who was their neighbor? This is something we struggle with even today. Wouldn’t it be easier if there were 613 commandments that took all the guesswork out of this?
Draw near to me, you who are untaught,
and lodge in my school.
Why do you say you are lacking in these things,
and why are your souls very thirsty?
I opened my mouth and said,
Get these things for yourselves without money.
Put your neck under the yoke,
and let your souls receive instruction;
it is to be found close by.
See with your eyes that I have labored little
and found for myself much rest.
Sirach 51: 23-27
Jesus is Wisdom personified. We need to receive instruction from Jesus. As a person who takes the yoke of Jesus we are learning our entire life. That is our burden. We live our lives moment by moment and are guided by the Holy Spirit. We must actively listen to that message and learn from it. This is the yoke of Jesus.
We have one topic from the readings yet to discuss. Matthew describes the call of Jesus in OT Wisdom imagery. In Greek Wisdom is translated as Sophia. In both languages (Hebrew and Greek) Wisdom is a feminine word. If you are not familiar with gender specific words, most languages define words as feminine, masculine, or neutral. Matthew was clearly linking Jesus with the personification of Wisdom, or as the Greeks would say Jesus was Sophia personified. We don’t want to ignore the fact that a feminine Jesus disturbs some people, but a good scripture scholar will draw your attention to this. Our culture does not allow us to pick up on or understand these references, but they are important to note.
…the central New Testament texts that affirm the deity of Jesus Christ draw on language about Wisdom/Sophia. Now, if the New Testament authors could employ Sophia imagery to describe the God revealed in Christ, contemporary Christians can surely make some valid use of it in worshiping this same God.
If you take one thing away from this homily it should be to be a life long learner of the wisdom of Jesus. At times it will not be easy. Loving our neighbor can go against everything we have come to believe, but if we are to accept the yoke of Jesus that is our burden. One area we need to learn better is how to worship God revealed in Christ through Sophia. Scripture verses like our Sunday Gospel today are perfect times to begin to weave Sophia into our worship. We can begin with Psalm 8. That is a great place to begin.