Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Are you tired yet? It’s okay to admit it. 2020 has been one long exhausting, soul-sapping, mind-numbing decade. Maybe you have something particular in mind—the global pandemic, systemic racism and injustice, unrelenting vicious political posturing, a glaring deficiency of human decency and integrity, the shameless absence of political will to work together for the common good, the indiscriminate distortion of truth for personal or political gain? Any of the above? Or maybe just everything in general? And perhaps more. Just not being able to go anywhere and do anything fun. Not being able to hang out with friends or travel or enjoy life without limits. Tired of living with certain people? Just tired of being tired? We’ve barely passed the halfway mark, I’m ready for Christmas on very short notice, just so we can say we’re done, and we can start a fresh new year. I thought it was funny two weeks into the lockdown when someone suggested we didn’t much like the 3-month free trial and would like to cancel the rest of 2020. Then all of a sudden we all wish we could.

It’s frustrating to not know how to take care of things or to not know what to do after spending the greater portion of our lives trying to acquire control of everything that happens to us. From the moment we take that first step as toddlers, we set out on the road to independence and self-sufficiency, to learn to do for ourselves, to govern our destiny, to become whoever we want to be. And bit by bit we’ve lost our grip on most everything reasonable and tangible and foreseeable, well, enough to drive us and some otherwise normal people up the wall, so we behave recklessly and irresponsibly, so we become unmindful of our neighbor’s welfare, so we give ourselves permission to be rude and unkind and disruptive for no better reason than outright spite.

In a way we all have participated in this slow and steady decline of civility, if not intentionally, then carelessly when we dismiss or excuse offensive behavior from those we know and love, when we don’t hold our leaders and role models to a higher standard, when we lack conviction and determination in our defense of the vulnerable and the marginalized, and when we are silent and unresponsive because we prefer not to get involved. And now we have to live with the mess we created, or at least the mess we allowed to happen. Who will help return us to sanity and order? We could surely use help from above. The prophet Zechariah announces to Jerusalem the advent of a mighty king, a just savior who was both extraordinary and meek, both powerful and gentle, one who commanded fear and respect from sea to sea yet proclaimed peace to the nations from the River to the ends of the earth.

The images of a mighty king and a just savior surprisingly converge in the modest son of a carpenter from Nazareth who spoke plainly but with authority about the gracious compassion of God; whose hands brought healing to the sick, wholeness to the broken, bread to the hungry; who desired to share God’s tremendous treasures with the poor and those on the fringes of polite society.

Jesus was well aware of the frustrations that come from feeling helpless and inconsequential, when all your efforts seem to accomplish very little, when your life’s dreams fade in the face of reality. Parents and teachers know this feeling when young people make hasty and self-destructive choices. Law-abiding citizens know this feeling when crime and poverty are rampant. Moral persons know this feeling when hatred, injustice, and violence go unchecked. Who do you turn to when those you rely on fall short, and life wears you down, and peace seems ever elusive, and critical leadership is wanting, and your hair’s on fire, and the world is going down the toilet?

And we hear Jesus speak gently those words in the gospel, “Come to me.” In a culture that prizes independence and self-sufficiency, we learn to depend on someone else only as a last resort. And often, we also call upon God in our need only as a last resort, when our efforts do not attain the desired outcomes, when nothing else will work, when we are looking for miracles. It is indirect admission that we are not as self-sufficient and independent as we think we are, that we should still do our best while realizing we cannot be in total control, that in the end, someone else is truly calling the shots. It is not meant to engender an attitude of fatalism or “whatever,” which says life is a series of random, unrelated events without purpose or direction.

Instead, Jesus invites us to follow his lead and let go of fear. In the passages on the good shepherd in the gospel of John, Jesus reminds us that the sheep follow their shepherd because they hear his voice, they know the sound of his footsteps, they remember his scent, they know to whom they belong.

“Come to me,” Jesus calls to us. “I will give you rest.” Is life wearing you down?

Are you battling frustration? Are you tempted to despair? Observe the children. They are seldom burdened with worries and concerns. They know to rely on those who care and provide for them and go about their lives unperturbed. Children project this wisdom in their willingness to trust. They are more carefree. They carry less stress, but radiate more enthusiasm, more energy. They often see the world much clearer as well. They are more quickly able to spot inconsistencies and injustices. They are more willing to reach out in compassion. They are less threatened by differences. On occasion, they will share their wisdom with us if we are attentive.

A couple brought their newborn son home from the hospital. The child’s older sister loved to watch her brother sleep. Sometimes she would talk to him in whispers, like they were sharing secrets. One day, the little girl was watching the baby in the nursery. Mom and dad thought it was cute that they spent so much time together. So they thought to eavesdrop, hoping to catch some of the whisperings. And they heard their little girl ask repeatedly, “Tell me again what God is like. I’m beginning to forget.”

Writing to the Christian community in Rome, Paul reminds us to whom we belong. “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” We need not be burdened with weariness and frustration. We still must make a sincere effort to live our baptism authentically, to be grateful for our blessings, to serve God and be reconciled to our neighbor, to embrace the cross and our discipleship. Living under the guidance and protection of the mighty king and just savior ultimately liberates us from fear and anxiety. When we can place our trust in him, we need not have all the answers. We can learn from him who is meek and humble of heart. His yoke is easy; his burden is light.

Rolo B Castillo © 2020