Daily Homily: By Breaking a Wooden Yoke, You Forge an Iron Yoke

August 4, Monday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year Two

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Jeremiah 28:1-17
Psalm 119:29,43,79,80,95,102
Matthew 14:22-36

The first reading contrasts the false prophesy of Hananiah with the true prophesy of Jeremiah. The false prophet promised that the exiles of Judah would return within two years and that Babylon would be overthrown. Jeremiah, on the other hand, cautions against opposing Babylon.

In the year 594 B.C., King Zedekiah invited delegates from the surrounding areas (Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon) to Jerusalem in order to form an alliance against Babylon. In response, «Jeremiah sent letters to the delegates and then confronted the king, not only declaring to him the folly of his ways but also insisting that the Lord was working on the side of the Babylonians. He asserted that, at this time, to oppose the empire was to oppose [the Lord] and, conversely, to serve Babylon was to submit to the Lord (27:1-22)» (M. Duggan, The Consuming Fire, Ignatius Press, 298).

Jeremiah appears before Zedekiah wearing a wooden yoke. This symbolizes that the people must submit to Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon. According to Jeremiah, the people of Judah should humbly accept the yoke of Babylon, for God has given Judah into the power of Babylon. Hananiah, however, took the wooden yoke from Jeremiah’s shoulders and broke it in front of the people; he encouraged the people to rebel against Babylon.

Hananiah’s actions lead Jeremiah to foresee the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah. The wooden yoke is replaced by a yoke of iron and the exile to come will last seventy years (29:4-23). The question naturally arises: who is the true prophet? Hananiah, who promises an end to the exile and the yoke of Babylon, or Jeremiah, who promises a seventy year exile? In the end, the death of Hananiah, foretold by Jeremiah, confirms Jeremiah’s prophecy. The word of God that he proclaims is authentic.

According to Jeremiah, the Babylonian Exile will be a time of grace and new beginnings. The Lord will restore the people to their land. «The Lord had taken his people into exile precisely so that he could transform them and provide a future that would include restoring them to their land. God’s people were now separated into two parts, like two baskets of figs. The good ones were in Babylonian exile, and the rotten ones remained in Jerusalem. The Lord was even now bestowing his blessing on those in Babylon as the source of hope and promise for the future (24:1-10)» (M. Duggan, The Consuming Fire, 298).

With the coming of Jesus Christ, there is a true end to the exile and a true restoration of Israel. Jesus manifests through mighty deeds, authoritative teaching, the fulfillment of the law and prophets, signs and miracles that he is the long-awaited Messiah. Today, he manifests his divine power by walking on the waters of the Sea of Galilee and by calming the stormy waters. The episode also manifests how helpless we are without God, without Christ in our lives. Like the disciples, we battle against the wind and the waves as we make our way to the other shore. Without God, we are stranded and in danger of sinking; with God, with our eyes set on him, we are able to walk on water. When we take our eyes off God and focus instead on the wind and the waves, we begin to sink.

When we fail or sin or when we act with «little faith», we need to imitate Peter who calls out: «Lord, save me!». This is the right attitude. If we are like the Pharisee, we will continue to proclaim our self-righteousness even as we sink; if we are like the repentant publican, we can grasp the hand of Christ and be pulled out of the water of our sin.

After seeing the display of divine power – multiplying the loaves and fish for the crowd, walking several miles on water, saving Peter from sinking into the sea, and calming the wind and the waves – the disciples are moved to an act of faith, declaring: «Truly, you are the Son of God». They are «men of little faith» who take another step in understanding the mystery of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior of mankind. «They recognize that Jesus has done what [the Lord] was said to do in the Jewish Scriptures. God is the one who treads upon the waves of the sea (Job 9:8; Hab 3:15) and who stills the storms that make the waters rough (Pss 65:8; 89:10; 107:28-30). Likewise, it is the Lord who reaches out and saves the faithful from drowning in seas of mortal danger (Pss 18:17; 144:7)» (E. Sri and C. Mitch, The Gospel of Matthew, Baker Academic, 192-193).

Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at mitchelljason2011@gmail.com.

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Jason Mitchell

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