The First Reading today presents us with a prophecy about the coming of the Messiah. It is put in typical Old Testament terms; and by this I mean that the language used is what would be understood by the people at the time of writing. That explains why the Saviour is presented as a King but instead of the usual conquering-hero kind of King that we might have expected, this King is presented as a humble peacemaker who goes so far as to banish weapons from his Kingdom.
Through our study of the Old Testament we understand that in each generation the hopes of the people in a future Messiah are gradually being modified. Slowly over long periods of time the prophets gradually change their presentation of the kind of hero the Messiah is going to be. They start out predicting a great warrior who wins battles and only slowly end up predicting the kind of Messiah that Jesus is actually going to be.
Here we see this process at work. In Zechariah’s prophecy, although the Messiah is still an earthly King he is one who has relinquished the trappings of majesty, which is why he comes riding on a donkey. Indeed, this prophecy could be seen as a direct prediction of Jesus as he entered the Holy City riding on a donkey on the first Palm Sunday. And like Jesus, Zechariah’s Messiah preaches a message of peace which is strikingly different from previous mentions of the Messiah in the scriptures.
In the second reading Paul addresses the Christians of Rome and reminds them to focus on the spiritual and not the material, most especially not on the things of the flesh. He holds out hope for those who get their priorities right and who put their faith in all that is spiritual for, as he says, ‘if by the Spirit you put an end to the misdeeds of the body you will live.’
We are being given to understand that our true fulfilment is to be found by putting our physical bodies under the control and direction of the Spirit. We should understand that this is not a rejection of the body but rather realising that the physical ought to be subject to the spiritual. This will then mean that we use our bodies and all that is material in the proper way.
In the Gospel text we have one of Jesus’ most compassionate statements: ‘Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest.’ Countless generations of believers have taken great hope from these words. Oftentimes they have helped people get through the very worst situations in life. When all other hope has been used up, these words of Jesus remain and give people the courage they need to carry on in the very direst of situations.
Some have interpreted this passage as referring to those who have exhausted themselves in the search for truth. They see this search for God as intellectually exhausting. However, according to us Christians, it would be very unusual to find God in this way. We do not generally believe that God can be found through an intellectual struggle.
We tend to think that it is not us who find God but rather God who finds us. We would lean towards thinking that it is often only when we have given up an intellectual search for God that he comes into our lives. Our understanding is that is when we try very hard to find God we are most likely to overlook him. God usually comes to us in unexpected ways and more often we find him in beauty and in relationships rather than through the use of reason or logic.
So, I tend not to see the tiredness of these people Jesus refers to has having resulted from their search for God. I think the text simply means what it says and that it refers to anyone who is burden down with the cares of the world. I think that Jesus is holding out hope to all who are heavily burdened or who suffer in any way. He invites them to come to him and to experience his loving embrace.
Jesus has certainly experienced suffering and so these feelings of exhaustion are very familiar to him. He has a warm and loving heart and he wants those who suffer to realise that he understands them and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Most of all he wants them to understand that in due time they will experience salvation and healing.
We might think that these words are addressed particularly to the old, or at the very least to the mature among us, since they are the ones most likely to be carrying burdens and to have experienced tragedy in their lives. However, it is interesting to note that the words that come before this sublime text seem to be spoken by Jesus about the young.
Jesus appears to be addressing his Father in prayer and is thanking him for revealing the mysteries of the Kingdom to mere children, while presumably hiding the mysteries from the worldly wise. However, I think that we should realise that the word children here is not meant to be restricted to the very young but surely refers to all those who accept the Gospel in a childlike way.
What Jesus is interested in is not numerical age but actually our level of openness to the Gospel. This has nothing much to do with age and we have to understand that the innocence of the young is actually able to be enjoyed at any time of life. What it requires is openness and the willingness to accept the truth of Jesus words.
Here we see the importance of the second reading with its emphasis on the priority of the spiritual over the material. The innocence that Jesus is referring to is the openness to the things of the spirit, the willingness to accept that there is another reality that is far more important than anything we can see or touch here on this earth.
You can imagine that Jesus, after several long years of teaching in the towns and villages of Palestine, was probably exasperated at the difficulty the educated people of the land had in understanding his message. But here we see the delight he takes in the poor and simple people who embrace his Gospel wholeheartedly.
Indeed, he is so happy that he praises God for the depth of their faith. Clearly lack of education is no barrier to faith in God. But once again we realise that it is not education or lack of it that is the problem. The key element is our attitude. I should imagine that just as many poor people rejected the Gospel as the rich.
What is required is not education or lack of it, not riches or poverty. No, what is required above all is the right attitude. The key ingredient is openness to the Gospel and the willingness to make the necessary changes in our lives.
If we have the right attitude we will have no trouble in accepting the Gospel. If we have the right attitude we will easily see that love is at the heart of all that Jesus is teaching and we will instinctively know that our task in the world is to live a life of love and so bring peace and joy to those around us.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket