Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A



Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

First Reading: Zechariah 9:9-10; Response: Psalm 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14; Second Reading: Romans 8:9, 11-13; Gospel: Matthew 11:25-30

The first reading introduces us to an oracle of the prophet Zechariah. The time is approximately 520 B.C. in Jerusalem. He was active in his ministry until circa 500 B.C. The prophet Haggai was active in Jerusalem about the same period. Both prophets were concerned about the importance of rebuilding the temple, which had been destroyed by the Babylonian army in 587-6 B.C. The exile of the people of Judea followed the destruction of the temple. After Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, ended the Babylonian Empire circa 540-539 B.C., he permitted exiled peoples in his empire to return to their homelands and rebuild their cities and temples. The Edict of Return and rebuilding of the temple for the Judeans is found in Ezra 1:1-4, and in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23. The restoration of the Jerusalem temple was completed in 516 B.C., followed by its dedication to the Lord God. In our reading, Zechariah addresses Daughter Zion and Daughter Jerusalem. These quaint expressions are synonyms for the city of Jerusalem, which was built (or, at least, the original fortress was built) on a hill called Zion.

There was, in Zechariah’s time, no kingdom. That kingdom ended in 587 B.C. Judea was a province of the Persian Empire, so the prophet envisions a future king and kingdom. He proclaims, “Behold, your king will come to you, a just savior is he, meek and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal (offspring) of an ass.” The same animal is intended – not two animals. This is an example of a characteristic of Hebrew poetry: using two nouns in parallel but expressing the same reality. The ass was a beast of burden. Its use was similar to that of a farmer’s pickup truck today. It was also used as a riding animal. The fact that Zechariah envisions the future king riding on an ass instead of riding in a chariot pulled by horses is a symbol of peace. Therefore, Zechariah expands on the theme of peace. He envisions horse and chariot being banned from Jerusalem, and also the common weapon of the day, the bow (with arrows). We must keep in mind that Zechariah is a patriotic Jew. Therefore, he notes that their future king will proclaim peace to the Gentiles (nations). His empire will extend from sea to sea, (Mediterranean to Persian Gulf?), and from the River (Euphrates) to the ends of the earth,” (a quote from Psalm 72:8). Ends of the earth can refer to the Strait of Gibraltar or a symbol of a universal kingdom. The selection of this oracle was determined by Jesus’ reference to himself in today’s gospel as “meek and humble of heart.”

Psalm 145 responds to Zechariah’s vision of a future king by celebrating the kingship of God. The people’s response proclaims, “I will praise your name forever, my king and my God.” After a verse of flattery, the psalmist describes God’s kingship. God is merciful, gracious, slow to anger and very kind. Another verse of flattery intervenes. Then we hear that God is faithful in all his words, holy in all his works, catches the falling, raises the humble — thus connecting with the humble Jesus in today’s gospel.

In the reading from the Letter to the Romans, Paul contrasts the weakness of the flesh with the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. He excludes, from the power of the Holy Spirit, those who do not have the Holy Spirit. In the opening of Romans, Paul attributed the resurrection of Jesus to the power of the Holy Spirit. Here, he elaborates on that thought. That same Holy Spirit, says Paul, will also bring our mortal bodies back to life. Paul asserts that we owe nothing to the flesh. In fact, if we live according to the flesh, we will die (eternally). But, if through the power of the Holy Spirit, we put to death the deeds of the flesh, we will live.

The gospel reading begins, “At that time….” This is Matthew’s way of connecting with immediately preceding material. He uses this expression and its alternate, “From that time,” seven times in his gospel. Therefore, the previous material helps to explain the material in front of us. What had happened? Previously, Matthew assembled three disappointments suffered by Jesus. First: John the Baptizer sent some of his own disciples to Jesus to ask if he is the expected Messiah, or should they look for another? Either John began to doubt his own mission, or he wanted to reassure his disciples who, perhaps, doubted both John’s mission as herald of Jesus or Jesus himself. Second: Jesus notes the ridicule suffered by him and the baptizer by their contemporaries. Third: Jesus laments over the cities of Galilee, which had rejected his mission. He responds to these disappointments by today’s gospel reading, which begins, “I praise (thank) you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth.” For what is he grateful? That the Father has hidden from the wise and learned the revelation that Jesus brings and the revelation that Jesus is. Instead, he revealed this revelation to little ones. They may best be described by Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 1:28: “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are.” This indicates that most early Christians were of lower economic and social classes.

“All things have been handed over to me by my Father.” Jesus brings, and is, the complete revelation of and from the Father. He alone brings that complete and final revelation to whomever he chooses to reveal it. Who are the ones who are privileged to receive this revelation? The little ones noted earlier as receptive of revelation. Jesus expands on the meaning of the little ones. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” It is an appeal to, and a recognition of, those of humble status socially and economically. In Matthew’s mind, this is also an appeal to Jews who are not yet Christian, and who are overwhelmed by the burdensome interpretations of the Torah by the scribes (see Matthew 23:4). Acts 15:10 speaks of this burden when Peter says to his critics, “Why do you tempt God by placing a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, a yoke which neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?” Matthew invites all to accept the Christian way of life, of which Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden light.”