Father Donald Senior, CP

July 9: 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Zec 9:9-10; Ps 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14; Rom 8:9, 11-13; Mt 11:25-30.

I happened to be in Jerusalem in late May when President Trump was also visiting the city (we had not coordinated our visits). The security arrangements were extraordinary, as one can imagine.

The Israeli press reported that the president was accompanied by nearly 1,000 people in his entourage — his own family and staff, security and logistical personnel, the world press and so on. Also, 5,000 Israeli troops and police were mustered to ensure a safe visit during the 26 hours the president was in the country. We have become used to these types of elaborate, even extravagant, arrangements for the powerful people of our world. Some of it is necessary for security but I also suspect a lot of it is to meant to underscore the importance and prestige of such world leaders.

Jesus visited Jerusalem, too, and created a stir but not with such a show of force. The first reading today from the prophet Zechariah evokes the Gospel portrayal of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem that we celebrated on Palm Sunday: the king entering his city “meek,” and “riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass.” This king — more powerful and more worthy of praise than any other king throughout history — comes to bring peace: “banishing the chariots and the warrior’s bow,” and “proclaiming peace to the nations.”

No doubt the passage from Matthew’s Gospel sets the tone for all this. In one of the most beautiful texts of the Gospel, Jesus praises his Father, the one who has hidden things from the “wise and the learned” and “revealed them to little ones.” Here Jesus proclaims the unique intimacy he has with his father: “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son.”

From this bond of love between Father and Son, Jesus reaches out with compassion and gentleness to “all who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.” The “yoke” of Jesus — his teaching, his example, his healing touch — “is easy, and my burden light.”

“Learn from me,” Jesus declares, “for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.” I suspect “meekness” and “humility” are not highly prized virtues these days. “Meekness” probably translates for a lot of people as a lack of confidence and low self-esteem, allowing yourself to be pushed around by others. “Humility,” too, may not make the list of the best loved virtues. Better to be assertive, to demand your rights, to let others know your accomplishments in order to get ahead.

But meekness and humility in the sense that Jesus exemplifies such virtues, are not about self-abasement. Jesus was not insecure, rather his strength was grounded in the love that bound him to his Father. His meekness enabled him to treat others with consideration and care and not be driven to trumpet his own virtues at the expense of others. His humility was grounded in realism — the recognition that life itself was a gift of God and that gratitude to God and others should be a fundamental attitude of our lives.

The reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans for this Sunday puts all this in another manner. For Paul, we can either live according to the “flesh” or according to the “spirit.” It is important to note that these terms are not equivalent to “body” and “soul.”

Living according to the flesh meant for Paul allowing our lives to be consumed by self-absorption, by giving in to our most base inclinations. Living according to the spirit, on the other hand, meant drawing on God’s grace to live a virtuous life, filled with love and gratitude, with care for others and a sense of compassion for those in need. The spirit of God, given to us by Christ, enables one to live according to the spirit and not according to the flesh.

Living an authentic Christian life can sometimes mean we prize virtues that the world around us ignores and may even despise.


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