Scripture and the Liturgy Uncategorized

Gentle King of the Universe: 14th Sunday of OT

At this time in the Church year, it can feel like we’re “stuck” in Ordinary Time until the end of November.  Not that that’s a bad thing!  Ordinary Time has extraordinary insights.

This Sunday we find Jesus more or less in the middle of his earthly ministry (Matt 11), and the Readings are marked by a strong theme of the restoration of the world-wide Kingdom of David.

1. Our First Reading is Zechariah 9:9-10:

Thus says the LORD:
Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion,
shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king shall come to you;
a just savior is he,
meek, and riding on an ass,
on a colt, the foal of an ass.
He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim,
and the horse from Jerusalem;
the warrior’s bow shall be banished,
and he shall proclaim peace to the nations.
His dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.

“Daughter Zion” and “Daughter Jerusalem” are poetic images in which the whole people of Israel are personified as one of the royal virgin daughters of marriageable age: a young woman of wealth and royal birth, at the prime of her life and beauty.

There is a nuptial theme at work in this passage. “Your king shall come to you,” the prophet says.  The king is portrayed as a conquering hero, a triumphant bridegroom who returns to the royal city to wed one of the princesses.

He comes “meek, riding on an ass,” that is, a donkey.  This is an image taken from Solomon’s coronation procession recorded in 1 Kings 1.  Solomon—whose name means “Peaceful one” from the root shalom, “peace,”—rode through Jerusalem on the day of his coronation seated on his father’s mule.  A donkey or mule was not a battle steed, but provided a more comfortable ride than a horse.  By riding on his father’s mule, Solomon made a social statement: he was not a man of war, but he was his father’s son—his father’s personal mount emphasized the close relationship he had with David.

In Zechariah’s prophecy, then, there is a paradox: this coming king is triumphant—a conquering hero—and yet he conquers in a peaceful way, banishing “horse, chariot, and bow,” the weapons of war.  He banishes them from “Ephraim”—the northern kingdom of Israel composed of predominantly of the ten tribes—and “Jerusalem”—the southern kingdom of Judah composed (mostly) of the two tribes Judah and Benjamin (with others mixed in).  In other words, this king will reunite “all Israel.”

Zechariah’s future king is definitely the Son of David, a kind of New Solomon.  His reign will be “from sea to sea”—that is, from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea—and from “the River to the Ends of the Earth”—that is, from the Euphrates to the southern Arabian peninsula (Yemen).  This is the realm of Solomon according to 1 Kings 4, Psalm 72, and Psalm 89.  Yet the literal sense of the words have a more expansive meaning: “from sea to sea” and “from the River to the ends of the earth” can also be poetic descriptions of the entire earth.  And indeed, the whole earth was promised to the Son of David already in ancient times.  David calls the covenant he received from God “the charter for humanity” (torah for adam) in 2 Sam 7:19 (see Hebrew), and Psalms 2 and 89 promise the Davidic king universal suzerainty over the other kings of the earth (Ps 2:1-12; 89:27).

Thus, Zechariah sees a coming return of a bridegroom-king to the faithful remnant of God’s people (personified as a royal virgin daughter), and this king will reunite Israel and govern the nations in peace.

2. Responsorial Psalm Ps 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14:

R/ (cf. 1) I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God.
R/ Alleluia.
I will extol you, O my God and King,
and I will bless your name forever and ever.
Every day will I bless you,
and I will praise your name forever and ever.
R/ I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God.
R/ Alleluia.
The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all
and compassionate toward all his works.
R/ I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God.
R/ Alleluia.
Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD,
and let your faithful ones bless you.
Let them discourse of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might.
R/ I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God.
R/  Alleluia.
The LORD is faithful in all his words
and holy in all his works.
The LORD lifts up all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.
R/ I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God.
R/ Alleluia.

For our Responsorial, Holy Mother Church gives us a very important Psalm, the last Davidic psalm in the whole Psalter, and one of only two psalms to mention “the kingdom of God”, the other being Ps 103.  But Psalm 145 has much more to say about the kingdom of God than 103.  It is the quintessential “kingdom of God” psalm.  In this poem, David, the great king who was promised a universal kingdom, praise God for God’s universal kingdom. David acknowledges that God is the true, eternal, universal king; the implication, then, is that David’s kingdom is just a reflection of the divine reality.  God’s kingdom is characterized by love, mercy, forgiveness, healing, and even resurrection: “lifting up the fallen” and “raising up” the “bowed down.”

3.  Our Second Reading is Romans 8:9, 11-13:

Brothers and sisters:
You are not in the flesh;
on the contrary, you are in the spirit,
if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you,
the one who raised Christ from the dead
will give life to your mortal bodies also,
through his Spirit that dwells in you.
Consequently, brothers and sisters,
we are not debtors to the flesh,
to live according to the flesh.
For if you live according to the flesh, you will die,
but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body,
you will live.

This Second Reading is not chosen to fit the theme of this Lord’s Day: instead, we are reading semi-continuously through St. Paul’s greatest letter, his Epistle to the Romans, although we are skipping passages that are used prominently at other times in the liturgical year.

This Sunday we find ourselves in Romans 8, the theological heart of the letter.  St. Paul reminds us that we have the Spirit of Christ living in us.  We have the Spirit through faith and the sacraments, especially baptism.  It is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that assures us we have eternal life.  This present life has too much suffering and evil to be the object of our hope!  To live joyful lives here and now, we must have a very robust notion of how quick and temporary this life is, and how joyful the next in God’s presence!  The Holy Spirit enables us to live joyfully, with a peace that “transcends understanding”—i.e. doesn’t make sense from an earthly perspective!—because he lives in our hearts and consoles us by reminding us of heaven!  This is the kingdom of God marked by resurrection described above in Psalm 145.

But there is something we must do.  Salvation is not “by faith alone,” as some have thought.  Our behavior must change.  If we “live according to the flesh, we will die,” but rather we must “put to death the deeds of the body by the spirit.”  This “putting to death” is called in the Catholic tradition mortification, from the Latin words for “death” and “do, make.”  As the saints have taught, we need to live lives of mortification or self-denial if we expect to be saved.  Self-denial keeps us from getting too attached to this present temporal reality, which is quickly passing away and is marked by sin and sadness.  Investing in this life is like investing in the Titanic.  Rather, “store up treasures for yourself in heaven” and “set your minds on things above.”  The practice of small acts of self-denial or mortification through our daily life helps us stay free from attachment to physical things and constantly aware of spiritual reality.  It helps to live more fully, even now, in the eternal kingdom of God.

4. Our Gospel is Matthew 11:25-30:

At that time Jesus exclaimed:
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to little ones.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

“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 yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

When he says, “all things have been handed over to me by my Father,” we see that Jesus is claiming to be the heir of the universal kingdom of David and the universal kingdom of God.  The two are ultimately one and the same.  Just as David handed all things over to Solomon, who then rode into Jerusalem to claim the throne on a donkey; so God has handed all things over to Jesus (Eph 1:22), who is also the Son of David. 

The humble mule of David on which Solomon rode was a public statement of the close relationship between father and son.  So here, Jesus emphasizes his intimacy with the Father: “no one knows the Father but the Son.”  Jesus alone, of all religious teachers who have ever lived, understands and experienced God as his Father, and can teach us how to have that relationship.  Moses, Plato, Buddha, Confucius, and Mohammed never even claimed to have that intimacy, much less teach others how to have it.

Now Jesus speaks words of consolation, some favorite verses that many Christians have memorized: “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 yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

The connection is commonly missed, but in this whole passage, Jesus is alluding to 1 Kings 12, the account of the transition from Solomon to Rehoboam, his heir, and the subsequent tragic splitting of the Kingdom of David into North and South. 

After Solomon’s death, the people of Israel came to Rehoboam because they were burdened from forced labor, and wanted rest from heavy taxation.  They pleaded with Rehoboam the crown prince to “lighten their yoke” of taxation and forced labor.  But Rehoboam was arrogant and swaggering: he promised them a “heavy yoke” and an increase in their burdens.  As a result, the northern tribes “divorced” the Son of David and returned to their own homes.  They chose a different king, Jeroboam, and the sorry disintegration of the once-great Kingdom of David began.

In these verses of Matthew, Jesus the Son of David contrasts himself with some of the corrupt and abusive sons of David who preceded him, whose selfishness led to the breaking apart of God’s people.  Jesus comes as the healer and consoler, the one to reunite “Ephraim” the north and “Jerusalem” the south, as we saw in the First Reading.

Jesus did reunite and restore the true Israel around twelve new patriarchs, the Apostles.  The Church the found is the restored kingdom of David, ruled visibly on earth by David’s royal steward, whom we have come to call, “the Pope.”  In the Eucharist this Sunday, Jesus approaches us as our bridegroom-king, wedding his nature to ours in a metaphysical marriage of divine and human nature: the two become one flesh.  Are we burdened and heavy laden?  Jesus receives all who are repentant into his kingdom, all who suffer from the weight of their own sins and those of others.  In the Eucharist, we have a foretaste of the sweet union we will enjoy with God in just a very little while, and this foretaste gives us the strength and joy for another week. 

In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
Give me Jesus

Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
You can have all this world
Just give me Jesus

When I am alone
When I am alone
Oh, when I am alone
Give me Jesus

Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
You can have all this world
Just give me Jesus

Give me Jesus

When I come to die
When I come to die
Oh, when I come to die
Give me Jesus

—Jeremy Camp

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