Graphic by David Chen

Faith: Hope-filled visions are a light in the dark

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  • June 28, 2017

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 9 (Year A) Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

Prophetic texts express the deepest longings of the human heart. Most often, these are desires for peace, justice and happiness. Poetry, literature, music and art also bear witness to these hopes, and these diverse forms of expression find their way into the lyrical chants and proclamations of the prophets.

Chapters 1-8 of Zechariah’s prophecy were written in the late sixth century B.C., shortly after the return of the exiles from Babylon. They express enthusiasm and the hope that Judea will be restored to its former glory.

The rebuilding of the temple, a restored national religious life, prosperity and political autonomy were all on the agenda. But it didn’t happen. The hopes and dreams remained just that. Stagnation, continued control by the Persians and then the Greeks, as well as a lack of enthusiasm on the part of a good portion of the people, all conspired against the grand vision of the restoration party.

Many scholars believe that chapters 9-14 were a latter addition to the book and represent the disappointing reality but unextinguished hopes of the nation. The prophecy lifted its gaze to the distant future, envisioning the coming of a great king that would bring universal peace and prosperity. He would enter Jerusalem humbly to symbolize His humility and non-militaristic nature.

There are indications this passage was liturgical in nature and the exhortation to shout for joy would have been acted out enthusiastically. It is hope-filled visions of this sort that keep humanity (and individuals) sane and moving forward during the darkest hours. Objections that they have not come to pass are beside the point. Their main purpose is inspiration and encouragement rather than accurate prediction.

Two of the evangelists (Matt 21 and John 12) used this passage to portray the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, for they saw in Him the universal king and bearer of peace prophesied by Zechariah. Religious narratives and visions have lost much of their lustre and motivating force for many. Others are negatively motivated by twisted or distorted visions.

Humans cannot survive long without hope and this need is even more poignant in our own time, in which hope is a rather scarce commodity. We do need these visions of hope, religious or otherwise. Perhaps the mission of religions is to breathe new life into traditional narratives and visions of hope, or to fashion new ones. God has not given up on us; we cannot give up on God.

Paul let his followers in on a very important secret. We do not have to wait until some distant time to experience the joy and blessings promised by the prophets or the eternal life offered by Jesus.

Those who live according to the Spirit of God dwelling in them have already begun the transition to the world to come. Those that close their hearts and minds to the inspiration and guidance of the Spirit continue to live, in biblical terms, according to the flesh. Which path we take is up to us; we are given opportunities each day to make the fundamental choice.

Jesus confirms this view in that He thanked God for having kept the keys of the kingdom from the wise and intelligent, and revealed them to the ordinary and simple. We do not “figure out” God’s ways or reason our way to God — love and humility alone are effective.

Jesus shares all He has received from God with those open to the indwelling Spirit. To many, the easy yoke and light burden of Jesus rings a bit hollow. Life can be rather brutal and we cannot minimize or spiritualize human suffering and pain.

In a deeper sense, however, the yoke of Jesus is indeed easy and His burden light. The outside world might not change and will probably continue its violent, polarized and fear-filled way. The burdens and challenges we face will probably remain. But when we are drawing encouragement, strength and assurance from the inner presence of Christ, we will have rest and healing for our souls.

It is not helpful to seek continually outside of ourselves that which can only be found within. Jesus is the fulfillment of our hopes and longings.

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