Michael Barnes S.J.
14th Sunday of the Year
Zechariah 9.9-10: For many ancient peoples the king was much more than the first citizen, the head of state or autocractic despot. He was often considered. in some way divine, his very presence the revelation of God. But the King of Israel was neither a Caesar nor a Pharaoh figure. Indeed, when the Jews clamoured for a king who would make them like the other nations many people objected that they had only one king — Yahweh and his place was not to be compromised by any earthly usurper.
But they got their kings good and bad alike. In a sense we can say they got the kings they deserved, kings who genuinely stood for and represented the people. But the ideal was never lost — the figure who would lead the people back to Yahweh and the Promised Land.
The verses from Zechariah which make up today's reading come from those uneasy. empty years just after the destruction of the short-lived empire of Alexander the Great. The experience may have served to reinforce the prophet's vision of true kingship: "See now, your king comes to you; he is victorious, he is triumphant, humble and riding on a donkey."
A horse is the symbol of war; but to ride on a donkey means peace. This is the salvation which the true Messiah will bring to his people — the peace which only God, and therefore only true Faith in God, can bring. And the result? No narrowly nationalistic self-interest but 'peace for the nations' uniting the whole world in one common bond.
Romans 8.9, 11-13: Paul was not a retiring personality. Throughout his life, from Pharisee to evangelist, he was motivated by a deep enthusiasm, even a passion, for the truth. The source of the enormous confidence he felt stemmed not from any personal talent or ability — in fact he was only too well aware of his own weakness and frequently complained about it — but from the Holy Spirit who dwelt in him.
These few verses give us the truth about those who live by the Spirit of Christ. But if it is true that the Spirit has made his dwelling in us it is equally true that we dwell in the Holy Spirit, for the action of the Spirit is not to be limited.
Paul speaks both of the Spirit of God and of the Spirit of Christ; the new life of the Christian is no less than the life which Christ now shares with his Father: "He who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit dwelling in you."
The Spirit of the power of God has replaced the power of sin as the principle by which the Christian lives. This is the source of present confidence; even in the face of weakness we can be sure that our unspiritual selves are bound to die and we will live only for God.
Matthew 11.25-30: The first verses of this reading occur also. in Luke: the style, however. is much more reminiscent of John. Jesus exclaims in thanksgiving to his Father: "I bless you for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children." He goes on to speak of the special relationship which he enjoys with his Father. who reveals everything through him. But there is no need to seek an explanation of these verses in another Gospel — however striking the verbal similarities. The context in Matthew is enough. Jesus has just spoken in condemnation of the cities where he performed many mighty works "because they did not repent". The language is forceful, even violent, and we must conclude that Jesus' mission in Galilee, in places like Bethsaida and Capernaum, had not been a great success.
The contrast between this bitter reproach and the tender and intimate tone of our reading is immediately obvious. It is no accident that Matthew has placed them together. The learned and clever have failed to see the truth: they are condemned. The disciples, the children, have grasped it in all its simplicity.
But let us be careful: Jesus is not commending sheer ignorance, a passive stupidity. The cities of Galilee thought they had the answers. In fact they could not see the wood of God for the trees of the Law. The poor, those who wait patiently, like the Anawitn of the Old Testament, for the coming of the Messiah, have no time for legal subtleties. Enough for them to know where, and to whom, the Law is pointing — a man of peace whose 'yoke is easy and burden light'.