Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A



Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14; Romans 8:9, 11-13: Matthew 11:25-30

The prophet Zechariah was active in Jerusalem tentatively from 520-500 B.C. Along with his contemporary Haggai, a major concern was the rebuilding of the temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonian army in 587-586 B.C. Although there were several waves of exiles taken to Babylon, that date is considered the beginning of the definitive exile. It was also the end of the Kingdom of Judah. In 540 B.C. Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylon. One of his polices was to let exiled peoples return to their country of origin and rebuild, especially rebuild their temples to their gods. To Cyrus, the God of Israel was just one among many. He hoped, however, that by paying for the rebuilding of temples, the gods thus honored would favor or bless him. Attempts to rebuild the Jerusalem temple were sporadic and not yet successful. Pressed by the two prophets, Zechariah and Haggai, the returned exiles completed the new temple by 516 B.C., when it was also dedicated to the Lord God of Israel.

Today’s first reading is an excerpt from an oracle attributed to Zechariah. The prophet calls out “Daughter Zion” and “Daughter Jerusalem” to rejoice. 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. The prophet envisions a future king. At this time there was no King of Judah nor even a kingdom. The area that formerly constituted the Kingdom of Judah was now a province of the Persian Empire. He describes this future king in these words, “Behold, your king shall come to you, a just savior is he, meek and seated upon an ass and on a colt, the offspring of an ass.” The word “meek” seems to be the connection between this first reading and today’s gospel. In the gospel, Jesus says, “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart.” Matthew 21:5 adapts this verse from Zechariah 9:9 as predictive or at least foundational to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The rest of the first reading attributes to this future king the banishing of war materiel — chariots, horses, and the warriors standard weapon, bows and arrows. In addition, he will proclaim peace to all nations. His dominion (empire) will extend from sea to sea, and from the River (Euphrates) to the ends of the earth.” Apart from “the ends of the earth,” the other boundaries match somewhat the long ago empire established by King David in his 39-year reign beginning in 1,000 B.C. “Sea to sea” has nothing to do with American Manifest Destiny — Atlantic to Pacific Oceans — but could mean from the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean.

The Responsorial Psalm 145 is a hymn celebrating the kingship of God. Thus it responds to the first reading, which speaks of a humble and saving king. The “saving” part is expressed in the final verse selected for today’s liturgy, “The Lord lifts up all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.” The psalm also responds to the kingship of Jesus in the gospel reading, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father.”

The second reading is an excerpt from the Letter to the Romans. Paul contrasts the weakness of the flesh, meaning human nature, with the power of the Holy Spirit that dwells in the baptized. Since the “flesh” of Christian, is now integrated through baptism with God’s Spirit, they can expect the same outcome Jesus merited— resurrection from the dead. Thus Paul writes, “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your (dead) bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” He continues, “We owe nothing to the flesh, but if you want to live by the flesh, you will die.”

The context of the gospel reading: Matthew arranged material as he saw fit. Thus he arranged in this chapter three major disappointments in his ministry. First, John the Baptizer seems to doubt if Jesus really was what John had proclaimed. He sends two of his own disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” The Baptizer seems to expect a powerful leader who will smash the enemies of his people. Instead Jesus answers, “Go and tell John what you see and hear, the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are healed, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life.” Jesus overlooks the doubt and praises John’s ministry. Secondly, Jesus quotes what gossips are saying about him and John. John fasted. For that they called him a demon. Jesus ate and drank normally with all kinds of folks, and they called him “a glutton and a drunk.” Thirdly, some cities in which Jesus had preached and worked miracles rejected him. This included Capernaum, the city he chose for his Galilean ministry.

How does Matthew depict Jesus’ response to disappointment? This beautiful gospel passage begins with words of thanksgiving to his Father. “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth . . . .” It is well known that even though the religious and civic hierarchy for the most part rejected Jesus, not all did. Matthew is however speaking of his own time, the last fourth of the first Christian century. Relying on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, we know that most Christians were of the peasantry and working classes, as Paul writes, “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to naught the things that are.” This ex-presses what Matthew gives as a reason for Jesus thanking his Father, “. . . for although you have hidden these things (his teachings) from the wise and learned, you have revealed them to little ones.” Then Jesus through Matthew extends an invitation to these little ones, the believers, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Let it be so, rather than what St. Peter said at the Council of Jerusalem, “Why do you tempt God by placing a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear,” Acts 15:10.