Fourteenth Sunday of the Year A (03 Jul 2011)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Jesus has been sung as gentle, meek, mild and loving through time. Today’s gospel points to those qualities, which Jesus embodied. The first reading recalled those qualities were within the heart of God long before God in Jesus walked with us. Take a tour of torah with me and see.
Torah is that Hebrew word I try to help people appreciate because it has everything to do with Jesus and his mission portrayed by Matthew’s gospel. Torah is rich in meanings. I’ll name three. Torah is text: it refers to the first five books of the Old Testament, the Books of Moses. Moses was God’s mouthpiece; he established God’s covenant with the people God liberated from slavery to be uniquely God’s own. An outstanding feature of that covenant was that God was a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.1 By covenant the people God liberated owed God living those very qualities. Spending one’s life trying to embody those divine qualities makes a person uniquely God’s—and as like God as humans can be.
Torah also means commandment. God offered people ways to embody true mercy, patience, kindness and fidelity. Torah is not trapped in its text; it comes alive as people embody it day to day. The many commandments of the relation-ship with God called Judaism may seem to us frivolous, even meaningless. Each command-ment offered a way to live the covenant with God; to be godly; and to draw others to God. Torah is not trapped between the covers of a bible. A Jewish friend once told me, “Judaism is not a religion, it’s a way of life.” It’s richest meaning is that torah charts a way of living.
When Jesus walked the earth, the scribes and Pharisees over-focused on the commands found in the text of torah and forgot their purpose: to live God’s covenant by practicing true mercy, patience, kindness and fidelity. They didn’t see torah’s commands charting a pattern of freedom but became enslaved by them and sought to enslave others, too. Yes, the scribes and the Pharisees [had] taken their seat on the chair of Moses. It would have been better if they just sat, but they acted; so Jesus warned, “do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.2
A human bondage Jesus transformed into a redeeming bond because Jesus personified torah. To appreciate torah better appreciates Jesus. To meet Jesus, who personified torah, is to meet the desires of God for us: true mercy, patience, kindness and fidelity. Jesus is the destination of this tour: from text to covenant-action to person, who modeled for us how to live. By our prayer and our virtuous living, you and I bring others closer to Jesus.
Because Jesus was gentle and meek, Jesus personified membership in the living realm of our merciful and gracious God. Torah charted ways to live the desires of God. Jesus revealed how to live God’s desires by offering himself as an example and our pattern of living them. Jesus freed people from the hardships imposed by scribes and Pharisees by offering an easy yoke. Torah was the first “yoke of the kingdom of God.”3 Jesus replaced it by fulfilling it and revealing it, so that we might learn from the one who personifies God’s desires, God’s heart and God’s covenant.
Through the ages, as people lost connection with God’s heart, many saw Jesus as a milksop, not the messiah; as misguided, not the new Moses. Take your tour, a tour of yourself and of the ways Jesus desires to free you; to guide you to truly real life; to reconnect you with himself, his Father and other people; and to allow others to meet Jesus through you.
Take 15 minutes daily with Jesus this week, pause and relax in the Trinity, who create, redeem and sustain you. Ask Mary and the saints to present you to Jesus and meet him as if for the first time. Praise and thank Jesus for creating and redeeming you. Ask Jesus to reveal to you your greatest need:
- is your inmost self starved for quiet? Ask Jesus to anoint you with his peace.
- Do you desire everything or unnecessary things? Ask Jesus to reveal to you what will increase your desire for his life for you.
- Do you allow fleeting things to shape you? Learn from Jesus his timeless gift he offers you to transform you and make you his disciple.
- Exodus 34.6; see also today’s psalm, 145:8-9!
- Matthew 23.2-4.
- Moshe Weinfeld, Normative and Sectarian Judaism in the Second Temple Period (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group), pp. 34-35.
- My teacher’s phrase which has at last come to be mine as well.
I am indebted to my teacher of New Testament, Luke Timothy Johnson, who taught me about torah and helped me meet Jesus, who personified it. He made his course available to a wider audience when he published it as The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985, rev. 1999.