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14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Last week’s readings focused on what kind of people God wants us to be, reminded us of the blessings he bestows on those of us who extend kindness and hospitality to everyone (regardless of their affiliation).  This week our readings focus on the kind of kingdom God envisions for his people.  Not one of military might or laborious worship, but something much different from what we’ve come to expect…

Zechariah 9:9-10
Psalm 145: 1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14
Romans 8:9, 11-13
Matthew 11:25-30

Our first reading is from the book of the prophet Zechariah.  It is helpful to remember that Zechariah’s prophecy comes from the early post-exile era, around 520 BCE, around the same time as Ezekiel and Ezra, and is attributed to two different authors (1st Zechariah forming Chapters 1-8, 2nd Zechariah forming chapters 9-14).  Our passage for this Sunday comes from 2nd Zechariah with a vision of a restored Jerusalem with a new king.  But Zechariah’s vision of a kingdom is far different than what the people expect.  What they expect is a king who is powerful, with attendants and an army  representative of his high stature.  Instead we see someone who is humble, riding an ass and banishing all weapons of war.  While this might sound familiar to our Christian ears, this is startling to Zechariah’s listeners.  They’ve just come a period of Exile and are rebuilding their lives back in Jerusalem.  Their desire is to never again be subject to another greater military power.  Yet Zechariah tells us that our strength as a people doesn’t come from weapons, but from putting those weapons aside.  While Jesus wouldn’t be coming for another 500 years, Zechariah’s vision for a restored Jerusalem is typical of the post-exilic era, during a time where the Jewish people see a future for themselves.  The joy Zechariah feels is the same joy we find in Christ… a joy and praise echoed in our Psalm when we sing “I will praise your name forever, my king and my God.”

Jesus picks up this Psalm refrain in our Gospel from Matthew.  Here Jesus is stepping in as the new mediator between God and his people.  In the  past this was a job left to Moses, and later to the priests and religious leaders.  But over time Jesus sees that these leaders have lead them astray, and those leaders have grown deaf to what the Lord want’s of his people.  In fact, these religious leaders have made a relationship with God a burden on the people, requiring specific sacrifices and practices that are restricting their access to God.  Instead Jesus tells us, “my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”  In other words, what you thought God wanted is not at all what he wants.  Not great power or wisdom, but great humility and generosity of heart instead.

Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Here Paul explains the differences between the body and the spirit… a common theme in Paul’s teaching derived from popular Hellenistic teaching.  Paul teaches us that we are not flesh, we are in the spirit… but only if we allow the spirit of God to dwell in us.  Instead of engaging in those activities that satisfy the flesh, Paul is teaching us that we should engage in those activities that satisfy the Spirit of Christ in order to attain salvation.  This is a particularly important teaching to his Roman/ Gentile audience, takes aim at their common hedonistic traditions in favor of a higher, spiritual purposes.

Final thoughts:

“Why do I have to go to church?”  It’s a common cry not only from children, but from many adults who claim to be faithful Christians.  Going to church is considered a burden.  Even we Catholics consider attendance at Mass to be an “obligation” rather than a gift.  Why is that?  To quote Moses, “we are a stiff necked people.”  We want what we want, even though it might not be good for us, and we spend plenty of effort justifying our positions instead of justifying ourselves before God.  In many ways we are a lot like those “little ones” Jesus talks about in the Gospel… not the little ones full of joy and wonder, but more like the errant toddler who, as any parent will attest, is willful, narcissistic, and ignorant of the many dangers around them.  As adults we grow to realize that we have certain responsibilities, as workers, as parents, as people living in a community.  These adult responsibilities also extend to our spiritual needs. 

Religious practice is on the decline world wide.  Perhaps it’s because many people don’t feel the need for God, or at least a formalized way of recognizing his presence and grace and giving thanks for this.  Yet so many people today say they feel a longing or a “whole” in their lives.  Yet studies done by the Pew Research Center have shown that those who attend religious services regularly not only are happier than those who don’t, but they also live longer.  This tells me that we need God as much as God needs us.  And our readings tell us how to do this… praise God, be humble, and focus on our spiritual selves.


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