Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 3 July 2011
Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145:1-2, 8-11, 13-14; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30
What is it about Jesus and his message that is available to the ‘little ones’ but which completely baffles the wise and learned? Is it that we are usually blind to the faults and injustices of a system from which we benefit?
In today’s psalm we praise God as king and celebrates God’s kingdom. What is a king if not powerful? When we worship God as king, are we thereby legitimating all power that claims to have God standing behind it (have you ever read the original preface to the King James Bible?!), or does claiming God as our king relativise all earthly claims to power? If God our king lifts up all those who are falling and bowed down, can we give our allegiance to domination systems which do the opposite?
The prophet Zechariah saw God’s king riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, banishing all war and bringing in peace. We seem to think that this can only be accomplished by the stronger aggressor who, having subdued the enemy by violence, can then forcibly impose peace. But that never works; those who fight the monster end up becoming the monster. Israel’s saviour-king was not to ride in on a stallion, symbol of conquering strength, but on the slow and peaceable donkey. Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus chose to consciously enact this prophecy. The cross, the ultimate exposure of the gratuitous violence at the heart of the political and religious systems of his day, was the means by which victory and peace were to be achieved.
Jesus invites his hearers to take his yoke upon them. The wise and learned of his society – the scribes and sages – would have invited their hearers to learn from them by taking upon themselves the yoke of wisdom or of the Law. Jesus audaciously invites them to take his own yoke upon them. He points them in the first place not to the teachings of religion or tradition, but to himself. We accept Jesus’ yoke when we follow him. Not only do we live by his teachings, but we are also empowered by the same Spirit. We are enabled to live out of the same reality from which he lived.
To live ‘according to the flesh’ isn’t just to live lives of sensual indiscipline; it is to live lives that unquestioningly accept things the way they are, that accept the structures that proclaim some as wise because they are privileged to have graduated from the right places, that assume that some people are intrinsically more deserving of opportunities to live out their dreams, that allow the Market to dictate the worth of peoples and the rightness of policies, and allow religious power to usurp the right of ordinary people to relate directly to God. To accept Jesus’ yoke is to live by his values. We cannot fight ‘according to the flesh’ and then expect the Kingdom of God to arrive. The peaceable kingdom isn’t just the end for which we strive. It is also the means by which we get there.