Perhaps there is some truth to the statement that much of what we know and are is learned. A newborn child inherits many things from his or her parents, but at birth its mind is also like a sponge. Much of what a child learns depends on their home and social environment. It hears, sees, tastes, realizes, and learns many things as it grows. It learns behaviors, attitudes, and perspectives from others. Ultimately, much of who we are and what we know — and most of how we think, act, and live— is learned.
I begin my reflection with this thought because in today’s gospel reading, I hear Jesus say, “learn from me.” He says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…” (Mt 11:29). What must I learn from Jesus? What is Jesus teaching me?
Here are three things that we learn from Jesus:
Relationship with God
We know that Jesus came into the world from God. Once he was with us upon the earth, he not only related to God as his father, but he also taught his disciples call God “abba” and to relate to God as God’s children. The most important thing we learn from Jesus is that he loved God will all his heart, mind, soul, and strength. And most of all, this love is seen in the consistency of his relationship with God as his Father. No matter what changed around him, his relationship with God never wavered. There were no good days and bad days in his relationship with God. The events of his own life did not make him blow hot or cold. He was not thrilled with God one day and questioning God’s wisdom the next. We also see his love for God in his consistency in prayer, in faith, in his obedience, and in his dependence on God. His relationship with God was a simple yet firm, faithful, deep, loving, and consistent relationship.
As I evaluate my relationship with God, I learn that I must love God like Jesus loved God. I learn that my relationship with God must be simple, firm, faithful, deep, loving, obedient, and consistent as well.
Relationship with Others
When I think of Jesus’ relationships with others, I think of two categories of people: those to whom he ministered and those who opposed his ministry. Those who opposed his ministry did so because of the claims he made about his relationship with God as Father. They also opposed him because of the kind of God he revealed — the God who came not for righteous but sinners.
Then there were those to whom he ministered — the sick, the tax collectors, the sinners, those on the peripheries. He even ministered to his enemies. He stood by them and defended them against those who used laws and tradition to keep them on the periphery.
The most important thing I learn here from Jesus is this — that both in his relationship with those who opposed him and with those to whom he ministered, he never compromised their dignity as human persons. No matter who the person was, friend or foe, Jesus only did good. He never repaid evil with evil. He forgave even his most bitter enemies. Today’s gospel reading tells us he was meek and humble of heart. His meekness and humility are the keys to his ability to treat each person with dignity. They defined his relationship with his family, his friends, his disciples, his fellow people, and his enemies.
There is one more thing I learn from Jesus about relationship with others. He taught the world to love. If there is one thing the world remembers about him, it is this: that he loved to the very end. This I must learn from Jesus — to love like he loved; to treat people like he did; to not compromise the dignity of anyone, even my enemies; to know the laws and tradition, but to never let them come in the way of ministering to people or treating them with dignity.
Relationship with Self
The third thing I learn from Jesus is his integrity. I cannot point to one instance where he did not himself practice what he taught. In the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, or any other teaching, he was the first to practice it himself. Because he was a man of integrity, he also opposed hypocrisy. We can never accuse Christ of duplicity or hypocrisy. We see this most of all on the Cross and the events that lead him there. Everything that he believed and taught about his relationship with God and others was tested as he suffered and died. In spite it all, he never veered from his own teaching. To his last breath he was man of integrity.
I learn from Jesus that I must be a person of integrity. Especially as priest and preacher, if I do not live what I preach then my life is meaningless. This is true for those of you who are parents, teachers, ministers, or — for that matter — for all of us.
What does it mean “to learn”? To truly learn something means that it becomes instinctive. It becomes second nature. For example, think about driving. The moment something comes in front of us, we instinctively apply the brakes. We don’t have to think about it. It is instinctive. When Jesus says, “learn from me,” he is saying that his way of life must become instinctive in us. We have a lifetime to get there but we can begin today.
Image: Mike Lewis. This image was created with the assistance of DALL·E 2.
Fr. Satish Joseph was ordained in India in 1994 and incardinated into the archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2008. He has a Masters in Communication and Doctorate in Theology from the University of Dayton. He is presently Pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Helen parishes in Dayton, OH. He is also the founder Ite Missa Est ministries (www.itemissaest.org) and uses social media extensively for evangelization. He is also the founder of MercyPets (www.mercypets.org) — a charitable fund that invites pet-owners to donate a percent of their pet expenses to alleviate child hunger. MercyPets is active in four countries since its founding in December 2017. Apart from serving at the two parishes, he facilitates retreats, seminars and parish missions.