A. THE BIBLE as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
B. Reflection & Dialogue: Is Jesus’ yoke easy or rather unbearable?
A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings).
First Reading (Zechariah 9:9-1). See now, your king comes humbly to you.
This reading, directed to Jerusalem (“daughter of Zion”, “daughter of Jerusalem”), is about the coming if her king to the city. It is obvious that the king in question is the Messiah, the Son of David, even if this is not explicitly stated. This Old Testament reading is unique in that the triumph and victory in question are peaceful. Often in the Old Testament, references to victories or triumphs of the coming of the future Son of David make mention of the accompanying war and bloodshed, as for instance in the Messianic Psalm 109 (110): 5-6: “He will shatter kings in the day of his wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations filling them with corpses; he will shatter heads over the wide earth”. The direct opposite is the case in this prophecy. His coming will be a cause of joy for Jerusalem. He will not come triumphantly riding on a horse, but peacefully on a donkey, a colt, a young donkey. Furthermore he will come banishing the weapons of war from all Israel – war chariots from Ephraim in the north and the war horse from the south (Jerusalem), banishing the battle bow and proclaiming peace to the nations, not merely to Israel. His reign of peace shall extend worldwide, expressed by the traditional phrases “from sea to sea”, and “from the River (Euphrates) to the ends of the earth”. The prophecy is seen fulfilled in Jesus as he advances on Jerusalem over the Mount of Olives.
Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 144). I will bless your name forever, O God my king.
Second Reading (Romans 8:9, 11-13). If by the Spirit you put an end to the misdeeds of the body you will live.
For a better understanding of the ending of this reading, and indeed of the entire reading, it is good to be aware of Paul’s contrast between the Spirit and the body. His meaning of “body” in these texts is not the human body in the normal, neutral, meaning of the word. As Paul uses this word, in contrast to “the Spirit” (the Holy Spirit), he is thinking of the body in the negative sense, and of human nature, in it weakness and in its manifold weaknesses, but more so the human person prone to sin, interested in one’s own affairs and in those of this world alone, not open to, or prepared to, accept Christ’s gospel, or direction from heaven, or from the help and grace of the Holy Spirit. Life and misdeeds according to the body, in this sense of the word, mean death from the Christian point of view. It is necessary to put to death such misdeeds of the body in order to live a Christian life. Paul knows full well that the Christians in the Roman community are living the true life, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a Spirit dwelling in them since their baptism, living a rich Christian life through the gift and grace of the Spirit of God, the God who raised Jesus from the dead, who gives this rich life on earth, leading to eternal life in the next world.
The Gospel (Matthew 11:25-30). I am gentle and humble in heart.
Today’s Gospel reading gives us a clear presentation of the mystery that is Christ, and this in Jesus’ own words. The contents of this reading, found also in the Gospel of Luke, are very close and very similar to what we read in the Fourth Gospel. The text speaks of the revelation of the mystery of Christ, and the mutual relationship between Jesus and the Father, and while unique as a text, it seems best understand it in the immediate context of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus in his life and actions was something of a mystery, which even John the Baptist found somewhat difficult to accept. John preached a baptism of repentance, and proclaimed the wrath to come, and spoke of the one who was to come, who would burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. Jesus was doing the direct opposite, and was regarded as the friend of sinners. From his prison John sent word by his disciples to ask Jesus whether he really was the one who was to come. By reference to appropriate prophecies, Jesus gives the reply to be given to John, ending with the words: “Blessed is anyone who takes no offence in me”, a message for John who was declared by Jesus as greater than anyone born of women. The reply would have strengthened John’s faith in the mystery of Jesus as he awaited execution. Matthew’s text goes on to tell us that the cities in which Jesus had worked most of his miracles – Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum – did not repent and believe in him, a text that takes us immediately to today’s reading on Jesus’ self-revelation of the mystery of his person.
The revelation of a mystery reminds us that we are in an apocalyptic context. Jesus begins this revelation by expression of thanks to the Father that he has hidden the mystery (these things) from the learned and the intelligent and revealed it to mere children (infants). We should not press the exact terms used. The phrase “learned and intelligent” stands for those wise in their own eyes, not open to God’s ways. The “wisdom of this age, the rulers of this age” of Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 expresses the same idea. And there can be other like expressions. Likewise, the term “infants” or “mere children”, contrasted with the “learned and intelligent” does not denote infants or mere children, as we use the term. There were no infants or children among Christ’s listeners or followers. Here the term would designate the apostles and disciples, as “these little ones” in Matthew 10:42 does.
As an ending to what Jesus said on the revelation of the mystery of his person, the Gospel of Matthew adds his invitation to come to him to find rest. One comes to Jesus, in this context, by faith and with awareness of the mystery of his person, and of the mutual relationship between him and the Father, a relationship which he freely shares with believers. In Jewish tradition, the Law of Moses was regarded as a yoke, not in any negative sense, but in the broader sense of the Law as the revelation of God’s will giving direction in life. Jesus in a sense speaks of his own person and of his teaching as a yoke, and of himself as a teacher, but a teacher who is gentle and humble in heart. His gentleness and humility are clearly evidenced from his public life and his association with sinners and with the marginalized. He says that his yoke is easy and his burden light. All this is to be understood against the background of faith in Jesus and of the mystery of his person. If we take the yoke and the burden mentioned as being the person of Christ and his teaching, for unbelievers without a personal relationship with Christ and his Church, these claims will be regarded as heavy and unbearable, not as easy and light. The text presents ample material for reflection.
B. Reflection & Dialogue: Is Jesus’ yoke easy or rather unbearable?
One major question in the dialogue between the Church and the society of our own day is the role to be attributed, or permitted, to Christ and the Church in public life. The terms of reference of any such dialogue, where dialogue exists, would be as broad as the message of Christ and the Church themselves. Christ presented himself as the light of the world. Some today would regard the Church and what it stands for as darkness rather than as light. However, we may here limit our reflection to the theme of the ending of the Gospel: the yoke of Christ as sweet and his burden light.
As just noted, the burden of Jesus in question is his person and his teaching. Jesus tells us that the Father sent him into the world so that it have life and have it in abundance. But Jesus made it quite clear that to have that true life one must die to oneself. Paul says the same thing in the passage from the letter to Romans read as second reading today. To be a disciple of Jesus one has to take up one’s cross and follow him. Such teaching, naturally, makes no sense to non-believers, and a number of believers would query it. The renowned Irish-language poet Seán Ó Riordáin expressed the following sentiments in one of his poems: “God’s Church is a halter on my mind. Priests I would regard as eunuchs”. Such sentiments are far removed from the easy yoke and light burden spoken of by Jesus.
Can any solution for this problem be found, or a basis for a discussion of the question? We may note that believers and non-believers will have different approaches to the issue. For believers, faith will always have a certain personal attachment to the person of Christ. Christian life is not just a matter of obeying a set of rules. It implies an awareness of the mystery involved, the mystery revealed by faith, spoken of by Jesus in the Gospel reading. The following of Christ implies an imitation of Christ, taking him as an example and teacher. Faith implies an acceptance of the role of grace and of the Holy Spirit. In this sense for believers Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden light, and in fact much easier and lighter than they were for Jesus himself. While Christ’s words under consideration must be evaluated in the light of faith, this does not mean that all efforts should not be made to show the beauty, wealth and significance of Christ’s teaching for the society of our own day, without taking from the substance of what Christ has presented as his yoke and burden