14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Preached July 9, 2017; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon

I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and learned you have revealed them to little ones.     

In our day and age, while not many of us are wise and learned, neither do we count among the little ones. You see if there are little ones that means there are also big ones, and the little ones have to look up at the big ones.

When everyone is equal, then there are neither little ones nor big ones; if I think that I am just as good as the next guy, regardless of his qualifications, accomplishments, knowledge, and virtue, then I am not a little one; if I have lost my capacity to admire the real excellence that is found in other people, then I am not a little one; if I make my own experience the chief criterion for judging and evaluating life, the world, and people, then I am not a little one; indeed, if I do not belong to anything bigger than myself, then I am not a little one.

Because we are all equal now we are capable of respecting our equals, but honor has disappeared from human life because honor recognizes the excellence or superiority of another.

We are capable of respecting our equals, but since our age of equality has become an age of pride and entitlement, respect easily falls by the wayside as each person scrambles to reach the top of the heap, or to tear down those who make it to the top.

Consequently, of all the great Christian virtues, humility is perhaps the most forgotten and indeed appears as something utterly foreign to us and incomprehensible. Foreigners in traditional garb have been rendered familiar through movie depictions, as have space aliens and all manner of fantastic creatures. By comparison to the now familiar sights of movies humility remains strange and unknown.

The proud person stands on his equality, his dignity, his rights, because they are his. The proud person says, “Let my will be done” because it his will. The proud person insists that he is right and will never admit that he is wrong or has made a mistake. The proud person will choose to do what is wrong or forbidden to show that he is not bound or limited by anyone or anything. Truly, the proud person is not only a burden on others he becomes even more a burden to himself.

Jesus 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, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.

 Jesus invites us to lay down all the burden of our pride and the sins that are born of our pride, and he will give us rest, the forgiveness of sins and life in the Holy Spirit.

The yoke of Jesus is the yoke of the Cross by which we die each day to our own egoism, so as to live for the Lord our God. His burden is light because the greatest burden is the burden we impose on ourselves, the greatest burden is the burden that we become to ourselves, the greatest burden is the burden of our own supposed greatness, of our own ego. The yoke is easy because Jesus walks with us and gives us the strength of his Holy Spirit; it is easy because when we learn to die to ourselves, he discover his presence, his life within us.

But why should we hearken to his invitation? Because he is the Son of God made man, who, by his own example, teaches us the way of the meek and humble.

 St. Paul writes: Though he was in the form of God he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped but emptied himself taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness and found as a man in appearance he humbled himself becoming obedient even unto death, death on a Cross. (Ph 2:6-8)

 The Almighty Son of God chose to be born as a weak and helpless child, dependent upon his mother’s milk. The one who, one with his Father and the Holy Spirit, created the entire universe from nothing chose to let St. Joseph instruct him in the art of carpentry. The one whom the angels adore with veiled faces, unable to behold the full splendor of his glory, chose to grow up unknown in a distant corner of the mighty Roman Empire. The one who commands the universe chose to obey the commands of Mary and Joseph. The just judge of the living and the dead chose to submit to the unjust judgment of his own creature, Pontius Pilate. The author of life chose to accept a cruel death upon the Cross.

What he chose for himself reveals to us who we are. We are weak and helpless, totally dependent upon God at each moment of our existence. We are ignorant of many things and stand in continual need of instruction, especially regarding the very meaning of life and the way that is pleasing to God. We are unknown not only to others, but even to ourselves – and that even proves true for the great celebrities. As much as we want to be in control, we must always obey, whether we want it or not. We must obey all manner of human laws, employers, and petty officials – like TSA agents – not to mention the needs of nature and the law of sickness and death. Further, we must render an account of our choices to the just judge of the living and dead, who first submitted himself to our unjust judgment. Yet, finally, Jesus reveals to us that in all of this we have been loved by God and been given the great gift and privilege of being created to the praise of the glory of his grace. (cf. Eph 1:6) He shows to us that our life in this world is a pilgrimage on which he accompanies us towards our destination, which is himself, for he is not only the Way, but also the Truth and the Life.

Taking the yoke of Jesus on his shoulders and learning from the one who is meek and humble of heart, the humble person recognizes his own limits, accepts his place in the created world, readily listens to and obeys true authority, readily admires and honors the excellence of others, does not stand on his own dignity, but holds fast to what is true and right and just because it is true and right and just. That is why the humble man is not a weak doormat, but truly strong and invincible precisely because he stands on the terra firma of the truth. So also, standing in the truth, the humble person confesses his sins; he confesses his sins because he desires to live in the truth and his sins are his truth, they are what comes exclusively from him, the only thing he can truly and completely call his very own. Recognizing the truth about himself, the humble person knows that all that he has is a pure and unmerited gift, which he receives with joy and gratitude.

Because inequality is a reality of human life each one of us, big or small, tall or short, rich or poor, learned or unschooled, has many opportunities to embrace the littleness of humility. The question is do we rebel against these humiliations and hold fast to our pride? Or by embracing the humiliation do we become one of Christ’s little ones? Do we carry within ourselves a secret resentment even when professing our littleness? Or are we at peace in the center of our heart, like a child in the arms of his mother?

When we truly learn the lesson of humility then the mysteries of God’s kingdom will be revealed to us because we will be counted among the little ones who are beloved by God. Then we will receive his gift with open arms and experience the peace of his Kingdom and the purest joy.

For her part, the Holy Mother of God, Mary Immaculate, was the true “daughter Zion”, the lowliest of God’s creatures and therefore the recipient of his greatest gifts. She was the first to welcome the King, whom she conceived in her immaculate womb. She was the first to enjoy the peace of his Kingdom. She is the Queen of Peace who possessed the highest wisdom and who wishes to teach us her children, the way of humility without which there is no true love.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.