14th Sunday of the Year Zechariah 9:9–10; Romans 8:9, 11–13; Matthew 11:25–30
Joe’s crippled back We should try to be gentle toward others, as Jesus himself was gentle.
Seven hundred years before Jesus’ birth a Greek slave named Aesop compiled a collection of stories. Today we know them as Aesop’s Fables. One of the fables deals with a dispute between the sun and the wind. The dispute was over which of the two was the stronger.
One day an opportunity arose to settle the dispute. A person dressed in a coat was walking down a deserted country road. The sun said to the wind, Whoever makes that person remove the coat faster will be the winner.
The wind not only agreed but decided to go first. He blew and blew, but the more he blew, the tighter the person held on to the coat. Finally, exhausted, the wind gave up. Then the sun took over. It merely shone in all its glory. Within minutes, the person took off the coat.
Aesop said the moral of the story was this: You can achieve more by gentleness than by violence.
Today, gentleness is not as highly regarded as it once was. There was a time when the best compliment you could pay someone was to call him or her a gentle person. Our word gentleman testifies to this.
Today, violence is more popular than gentleness. TV has given it a widespread audience, because it gets big Nielson ratings.
All of this has taken its toll on us. It is our dubious honor to have coined such expressions as “battered woman” and “abused child.” Our own families reflect the violence of our age. We shout, kick things, throw things, and even strike one another.
How different from what Jesus taught us! Learn from me, said Jesus, because I am gentle and humble in spirit.
The prophet Isaiah foretold the gentleness of Jesus when he said: He will not shout or raise his voice or make loud speeches in the streets. He will not break off a bent reed nor put out a flickering lamp. Isaiah 42:2–3
A beautiful example of the gentleness of Jesus is the way he handled the case of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus was gentle not only with the woman but also with her self-righteous accusers.
Jesus didn’t shout and rave. He didn’t scream and yell. He simply bent over, gently, and wrote in the sand with his finger. His action stood out like a clap of thunder in the silence of a summer’s night.
Jesus taught us to be gentle, also. He held up for our imitation the shepherd in the Parable of the Lost Sheep. He didn’t beat the sheep or drag it home. He placed it gently on his shoulders.
Jesus also held up for our imitation the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The father didn’t shout at his wayward son. He didn’t hassle him; he hugged him.
Joseph Lahey tells this story on himself in Guideposts magazine. As a child, Joseph had a crippled back. His back didn’t look so bad when he was dressed. But when he took his shirt off, it looked ugly. Joseph hated his back.
One day he stood in line at school waiting to be examined by the school doctor. He dreaded the moment when the doctor would say, Remove your robe.
Finally the terrible moment came. Joseph fumbled with the cord. His hands were shaking badly. At last the robe was off.
The doctor looked at him and then did something very unusual. He walked around the desk, cupped the boy’s face in his big hands, and looked straight into the boy’s eyes.
Son, he said gently. do you believe in God?
Yes, sir, said the boy.
Good! said the doctor. The more you believe in him, the more you believe in yourself.
Then, just as suddenly as the doctor had shown this gentle side of his character, he reverted to being a businesslike doctor.
The doctor went back to the desk and wrote something on the chart. Then he left the room for a minute.
Joe’s eyes looked at the chart. He wondered what the doctor had written. Bracing himself for the worst, he inched forward to peek at the chart.
Under the heading “Physical Characteristics,” the doctor had written: Has an unusually well-shaped head. Joe couldn’t believe his eyes.
Soon the doctor returned. He checked a few more things on Joe. Then he said with a knowing smile, Okay, Joseph, you can put your robe back on. Please send me the next boy.
That brief episode in Joe’s life took place years ago.
But the boy never forgot the gentleness and the encouraging words of that doctor.
Today’s gospel contains an important invitation for all of us. It invites us to learn from Jesus because he is gentle and humble in spirit.
Concretely, what does this mean for us in the week ahead?
First, it means we try to respond to people as the sun did in Aesop’s fable of the wind and the sun. We try to respond with genuine warmth.
Second, it means we try to respond to those who wrong us as Jesus did in the case of the sinful woman, and as the father did in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. We try to respond with understanding.
Third, it means we try to respond to people with burdens as the doctor did to the crippled boy. We try to respond with tender sensitivity.
Let’s conclude with a prayer. Please follow along with me in silence:
Lord, during the week ahead, help us remember the lesson of the sun in the fable of the wind and the sun.
Help us remember the tenderness of the doctor in the story of the boy with the crippled back.
Help us remember the words of your Son, who said: “Learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit.” M.L.
Series II 14th Sunday of the Year Zechariah 9:9–10; Romans 8:9, 11–13; Matthew 11:25–30
The prince and the statue We become like Jesus by meditating on Jesus..
Once upon a time there was a young prince. He was very handsome except for one thing: He had a crooked back.
This birth defect caused him great sorrow. It also kept him from being the kind of prince that he really wanted to be for his people.
One day the prince’s father asked the best sculptor in his kingdom to make a statue of the prince. It should portray him, however, not with a crooked back, but with a straight back. The king wanted his son to see himself as he could be.
When the sculptor finished the statue, it was truly magnificent. It was so lifelike that you could mistake it for the prince. The king placed the statue in the prince’s private garden.
Each day when the prince went to the garden to study, he looked longingly at the statue. Then one day he noticed that when he did this, his heart beat faster and his body tingled.
Months passed. Soon the people began to say to one another, “The prince’s back doesn’t seem as crooked as it once did.”
When the prince heard this, his heart beat even faster and his body tingled even more. Now the prince began to go to the garden more often. He spent hours standing before the statue, studying it closely, and meditating on it.
Then one day a remarkable thing happened. The prince found himself standing as straight as the statue.
This story is a kind of parable of you and me. We too were born to be a prince or a princess. But we too had a defect that kept us from being the kind of person we were meant to be.
Then one day our Father in heaven sent his only Son, Jesus, into the world.
Jesus is the perfect image of what you and I were born to be. He stands spiritually straight and beautiful. When we look at Jesus, our heart beats faster, our body tingles, and we begin to dream.
But that’s as far as our story goes. It’s still unfinished; it’s still incomplete. Whether we become like Jesus or not is something still to be decided.
Whether our story will have a happy ending, like the story of the prince, is something still to be determined.
This raises an immensely important question. What can we do to guarantee that our story will have a happy ending, like the story of the prince?
The answer to that question is simple. We must do what the prince did. As the prince studied and pondered the statue, so we must study and ponder Jesus.
“[L]earn from me,” says Jesus in today’s gospel, “because I am gentle and humble in spirit.”
Concretely, how do we go about standing before Jesus and studying him, as the prince stood before the statue and studied it?
There are two answers to that question. First, we can begin doing what a lot of serious Christians are doing today. We can begin making Bible reading and prayer a greater part of our daily lives. Ralph Martin, a Catholic layman, writes:
A real estate man I know gets up early in the morning to pray; an aerospace engineer prays and reads Scripture on his lunch hour; a production manager of a computing firm prays after the children are in bed at night.
And so the first thing we can do is to do what many serious people are doing. We can begin making Bible reading and prayer a greater part of our lives.
This brings us to the second thing we can do.
We can begin listening to the gospel reading at Mass in a more profound way.
We can begin listening to it not just with the ears of the body, but also with the ears of the mind, the ears of the heart, and the ears of the soul.
What do we mean by this?
First, consider the mind. Listening with the ears of the mind doesn’t mean just listening to Jesus saying, “[L]earn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit.”
It means visualizing Jesus saying this. It means seeing the look in his eyes and the expression on his face as he says it. It means imagining the gospel event in our mind’s eye. It means making it come alive again. And this brings us to the second point: listening with the ears of the soul. Listening with the ears of the soul doesn’t mean just listening to Jesus saying, “Learn from me.”
It doesn’t mean just hearing Jesus speak these words to some nameless audience in far-off gospel times.
It means hearing Jesus say these words to each one of us in modern times. It means realizing that when we hear Jesus speak in the Gospel, he is speaking directly to us. It means we hear him say, “Mary or Tim learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in spirit.”
This brings us to the final point: listening with the ears of the heart. Listening with the ears of the heart, again, doesn’t mean just hearing Jesus say, “Learn from me.”
It means taking these words to heart. It means applying them to our own lives.
Years ago a motorist stopped at a farmhouse. On the porch was an elderly woman. Working around the house was an elderly man. He was whistling nonstop in a tuneless way. The motorist asked about the whistling. “It’s for my wife,” said the elderly man. “She went blind a few years ago, and it left her terribly frightened and lonely. Hearing me whistle lets her know that I am nearby and watching over her.”
That’s an example of listening with the heart. It’s taking to heart the gospel message. It’s doing something about it. And so we come back to our starting point. If our life is to have a happy ending, if we are to grow into the image of Christ as the prince grew into the statue’s image we must do what the prince did.
We must begin to study and to ponder Jesus, as the prince studied and pondered the statue not just with the eyes and ears of the body, but also with the eyes and ears of the mind, the soul, and the heart.
And if we do this, someday we too will become like Jesus, who was meek and humble of heart; and our story, like the story of the prince, will have a happy ending.
Series III 14th Sunday of the Year Zechariah 9:9–10; Romans 8:9, 11–13; Matthew 11:25–30
Happiness The human heart has a hole in it that only God can fill.
You have shown to the unlearned what you have hidden from the wise and learned. Matthew 11:25
Legend says that long ago a wonderful thing happened. The angels in heaven decided to give a special gift to the humans living on earth. It was the “secret to human happiness.”
So they wrote it out on parchment, put it into a gold envelope, and sent it down to earth. But the night before the envelope was to be opened and the secret read to the world, a terrible, terrible thing happened. An evil angel from hell stole the envelope The evil angel thought to himself, “Where can I hide the gold envelope so it will never, never be found?
“Perhaps I could dig a deep hole in the ground and bury it?” “Perhaps I could tie it to a rock and throw it into the deepest part of the sea?” “Or perhaps I could place it atop the tallest mountain in the world?” Then the evil angel got a brilliant idea!
“Ah! I know the perfect place to hide it a place no one would think of, a place no one would ever dream of. I’ll bury it deep down in the human heart.” And that’s what he did.
And ever since that fateful day, many wise and learned People have spent enormous fortunes trying to find the secret to happiness.
They have dug into the ground mining gold and drilling oil in search of it. They have sent divers exploring the sea to find it. They have financed expeditions to explore mountains for it. But they have not found it.
It is against this background that Jesus prays these words in today’s Gospel:
Father, Lord of heaven and earth! I thank you because you have shown to the unlearned what you have hidden from the wise and learned. Matthew 11:25–26
And what is it that Jesus was referring to? What was it that the Father has shown to the unlearned but hidden from the wise and learned? It is the secret to human happiness. It is not found in the ground, in the sea, or on some mountain peak. It lies inside each one of us: in the human heart.
And so, in the first half of today’s Gospel, Jesus reveals to us where to find the secret of happiness: right inside the human heart.
In the second half of the Gospel, Jesus reveals to us what the secret of happiness is. Jesus answers the question in words that yield their secret only if we take them to heart and meditate on them lovingly. Jesus says:
Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.
Over 1,500 years ago, Saint Augustine summed up the idea behind Jesus’ words this way:
Our hearts were made for you, O Lord, and they will not rest until they rest in you.
Or to put it in yet another way, God made the human heart with a “happiness hole” in it that only God can fill.
Money can’t fill it. Fame can’t fill it. Power can’t fill it. Not even human love can fill it fully.
It is this truth that Jesus reveals to us in today’s Gospel. Happiness lies in the human heart and it consists in giving our heart to God for it is made in such a way that it will not rest until it rests in God.
“Come to me,” says Jesus, and I will give you rest.”
It is a truth that many wise and learned people, for various reasons, do not accept. As a result, they spend vast fortunes seeking the secret of happiness according to their own theories and worldly reasoning.
On the other hand, it is a truth that the unlearned have found, simply by taking to heart the words of Jesus and meditating on them lovingly.
Let us conclude with an example that illustrates both of these points in a dramatic way.
In his autobiography entitled Just as I Am, Billy Graham writes:
Some years ago now, Ruth and I . . . were on an island in the Caribbean. One of the wealthiest men in the world asked us to come to his lavish home for lunch.
He was seventy-five years old, and throughout the entire meal he seemed close to tears.
Finally, he said:
“I am the most miserable man in the world. Out there is my yacht. I can go anywhere I want to. I have my private plane, my helicopters. I have everything I want to make me happy. And yet I am absolutely miserable.”
We talked with him and prayed with him, trying to point him to Christ, who alone gives lasting meaning to life. That afternoon the pastor of the local Baptist church came to call. . . . He too was seventy-five. A widower, he spent most of his free time taking care of his two invalid sisters. . . .
“I don’t have ten dollars to my name,” he said with a smile, “but I am the happiest man on the island.”
The point is clear. God made the human heart restless and it will not rest until it rests in God.
Or to put it in yet another way, God fashioned the human heart with a “happiness hole” in it that only God can fill. Nothing else will ever fill it.
It is this great truth that Jesus reveals to us in today’s Gospel.
It is this great truth that we celebrate together in this liturgy.
It is this great truth that God wants us to take forth from this Church today and live out in our personal lives.