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God's Word on Sunday: Prophetic message applies to our world

  • June 28, 2020

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 5 (Year A) Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

The Book of Zechariah is a puzzling collection of prophecies written at different points in Israel’s history. Scholars are unsure of the dating of the various parts of the book. But perhaps this vagueness is a blessing, for the prophecies are valid in every time and place, especially our own.

Chapters 9-14 were probably written in the fifth century BC after the return from exile in Babylon. The people were disillusioned at both the condition of the land of Judah and the lack of progress in rebuilding the nation and the temple. Economic and social conditions were grim. Even though the Persian king Cyrus had allowed them to return, they were still a vassal state of Persia.

The beautiful and inspiring verses of the king’s entrance suggest a worship setting, with the people invited to respond loudly and enthusiastically. The images and words imply that God alone is king of Israel. They were designed to give hope and courage, plus something else: trust in God.

The temptation in times of trial had always been military force, violence and power politics. This is also our temptation and always has been.

Zechariah’s prophecy insists that God alone is king and will bring about the desired transformation. Our part is to follow God’s guidance and commandments — there are no shortcuts or quick fixes.

The messianic figure in the prophecy will arrive in humility and peacefulness. Instead of a warhorse, he will ride a lowly donkey. Rather than taking up arms, he will abolish and eliminate weapons and violence. Perhaps the prophet had Psalm 33:16-17 in mind: “A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save.”

This prophetic image became part of the repertoire of hopeful messianic prophecies that sustained the people through centuries of struggle and oppression at the hands of foreign powers. Jesus modelled His own entry into Jerusalem on it, proclaiming in dramatic form that the hour of deliverance and transformation was at hand.

This prophetic image and its message are especially urgent in our own time. It rules out violence, domination and reliance on power and force. Patience and fidelity are essential. Wonderful things unfold when people do things God’s way rather than their own.

Spirit and flesh describe two different ways of living in this world. To live according to the flesh is to focus on self and the gratifications of ego and desire. Although God may be invoked from time to time, God does not play a prominent role in one’s everyday life.

In biblical terms, this is not really living and we cannot expect much from walking such a path. But when our focus is on God and service to others, we are living according to the Spirit. The Spirit is the source of divine life and it lifts us out of ourselves and into awareness of God’s presence. Each day we are asked to choose which path we will take.

Jesus thanked God that the revelation unfolding in their midst had been hidden from the intelligent and wise and revealed to mere infants. There is nothing wrong with being intelligent and wise, but often these qualities feed the ego rather than the heart and spiritual understanding.  

Jesus was not “figured out” by anyone, nor was He the result of human reasoning, values or desires. He did not wish to be controlled by humans or reduced to a mere object of worship. Jesus enters the hearts and minds of the humble, compassionate and seeking. He can only be received on His terms rather than ours.

Weary and burdened is how many people feel today. Jesus invites us to walk with Him and allow Him to help us with those burdens. Using the image of a yoke, Jesus assures us that we will stay linked to Him in a way that allows His support and counsel.

He does not impose additional burdens on us, nor should we on others. All people struggle in some way, and the Lord promises us the love and grace to handle life with dignity, courage and at least some level of joy.

Jesus is our personal friend, teacher and guide. We can walk with Him without fear and with complete trust.