Saturday, July 2, 2011

Meek and Victorious

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
Zechariah 9:9-10
Romans 8:9. 11-13
Matthew 11:25-30

“Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
If you are of average height and weight, the claim “One Size Fits All” might be credible, but when you are little larger, like I am, especially when it comes to caps or golf hats, you know that the claim has no basis in fact. The “All” is a presumption, and in fact, without foundation. I know. Those caps never fit me.

Today’s Gospel was the very same one we just heard Friday, on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus; that feast is a powerful and beautiful meditation on God’s love for us which took flesh in His Son Jesus. When that same Gospel is read on the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, however, the focus is more on the gentleness and humility of Christ. It includes an invitation to follow Him closely. Be it clear, however, that although it is the same Gospel passage even so we are not just plopping the same hat on another head today. We’re digging deeper into the treasure trove which is Holy Scripture, into the Gospel which reflects that wealth in a very special way.

The interpretive key for the Gospel of this 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time can be found in the 1st reading, taken from the prophet Zechariah:

“See now, your king comes to you; he is victorious, he is triumphant, humble and riding on a donkey…”
Some English translations of our passage from Matthew’s Gospel use the expression “meek and humble” instead of “gentle and humble”. In either case we are reminded of the Beatitudes also from Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus promises that the meek shall inherit the earth, the meek shall be victorious, the meek shall be the ones to conquer. This Sunday tells us who and how Jesus is and how we can be one with Him in His great victory. Go figure, as they say, when our Commander in Chief, our King, is neither a commander nor a chief, but humble.

“Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion!”

There are loads of tools out there for self-improvement. Years and years ago, the classic book title for this genre was “How to succeed in business without really trying”. Or was that a Broadway play? My Dad’s generation had an association called “Toastmasters”, which helped you improve not only your public speaking but also how you met and greeted people. Since then there have been tons of audio and video tapes produced and sold, weekend seminars advertized in airline magazines, and now everything you can imagine digitally produced to help you make yourself better, to help you succeed, however you might see that success.

I doubt however if many have any luck in selling their product who advertize according to the line “How to succeed in business without really trying”. No, I’m more impressed by the “true grit” and maniac exercise programs which promise you good looks and stamina beyond your wildest dreams if you call the number at the bottom of your screen right now; those programs demand hard work and seem more promising. Even so, and rejecting all the preachers/entertainers we see on TV who promise you friendship with God, plus a new home, a new car and a great relationship besides, it must be said and even shouted out that real life and God’s promise is so much more.

The king promised by Zechariah is more; our life as subjects or as followers of the great king is meant to be for us so much more. Yet how hard it is for us to see our lives as more than a response to a code, a set of rules or a teaching! How hard it is to imagine that Jesus Himself has invited us to share His yoke, to share His burden, to share His Cross! This week I happened to see a video from Dublin, Ireland where they stopped people randomly on the street, asked if they had been baptized Catholic (to which all said yes) and then asked them if they went to Mass on Sundays, to which question all but one said either never or hardly ever. In answer to the why don’t you go, nobody I saw came back expressing any appreciation for the fundamental message of the Gospel:

“I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.”
Too few people, too few young people and not only young people, seem to understand the fundamental truth of our faith that God’s Kingdom is life and love shared, now and for all eternity. We’re competing with no one of a Sunday morning; we have nothing to sell. We’re celebrating our relationship with, our being yoked to Jesus, gentle and humble in heart. The word “boring” doesn’t apply because what we do in worship is neither goal-oriented education or achieving, nor (God forbid!) is it entertainment or a pep rally.

Make your Lord’s Day restful, leisurely with space and time for reflection! Binding us under pain of mortal sin to Sunday Mass is a good thing, because at least here and at least on His Day, the Lord’s Day, we should be able to catch our breath, to find ourselves and to see Who it is we are under the yoke with, Jesus gentle and humble in heart. The slogan “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” is nothing short of perverse. Sunday, just like our daily prayers, awaken us to the only type of success or accomplishment worthy of being called success, triumph and victory. Our real enemies are not the laundry basket piled high, the desk full of unanswered correspondence, the guy infected with road rage who cuts us off in his selfish hurry to get wherever he is going. No, the enemies are fallen-aways from the ranks of the Principalities and Powers. No amount of gym time, no amount of jumping and sweating prepares us for that battle.  Our victory is an ultimate one we win yoked to Him. The victory in fact is already won and it belongs to the Lamb upon the Throne Who was slain and now lives forever!

Accept His gentle yoke!

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