‘Rejoice, heart and soul, daughter of Zion! Shout with gladness, daughter of Jerusalem!’ The prophet Zechariah has the best possible news for a people held in captivity in Babylon and far away from their native land. Their time of trial and suffering is over so that now can return to the land of their birth. Not only that. The new leader will remove from the city every sign of military power and force, he will destroy every instrument of war and all other means of violence. But there is something baffling about these assertions as Zechariah talks of the victorious king as humble and riding on a donkey! According to the wisdom of the world, this is not the way to overcome an enemy. If one is to be a victorious king one must look like the part, coming at the head of an army with horses and chariots, not humble and riding on a donkey.
Nevertheless, Zechariah wasn’t far off the mark for a new power took over Babylon and allowed the Israelites to return home without any violence. This same prophecy finds even greater fulfilment in the New Testament when, on Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem, unarmed and defenceless. Humble though he was who else has shaped the future so decisively as this man. Probably no one else has had such power over hearts and minds as he has. Look at all the martyrs that willingly died and still die rather than deny his name. What about the vast movements that took place under his inspiration: the religious communities that sprung up; the schools, hospitals that pulled untold numbers out of the poverty trap; the monasteries that set out with selfless dedication to prefer nothing whatever to Christ. No other prophet or religious leader comes near Jesus.
Jesus’ power lay in his ability to change human hearts. Great tyrants, like Stalin, may have killed millions of people and, with their death squads, could make tremble before them, but they could not change human hearts. Yet Jesus could turn an irate Saul into Paul, a great apostle of Jesus.
Compassion was the key to Jesus’ ministry. He so empathised with the sad plight of the poor and the downtrodden that he left his home in Nazareth to share his life with them. He caused scandal by dining with the sinners and tax collectors, thereby making himself unclean. But we also notice how these same tax collectors and sinners flocked around Jesus. They felt at ease with him and seemingly couldn’t get enough of him. All this contrast directly with the Scribes and Pharisees who were at odds with Jesus right from the beginning.
It was this scenario that led to Jesus’ exclamation in today’s Gospel. “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” It wasn’t that the poor were senseless and easily duped by Jesus. They were not. Rather, with very little in the way of power and nothing to lose, they recognized that Jesus not only spoke to their spiritual needs but did so with divine authority. The upper classes, on the other hand, had too much to lose. They were too full of their own ideas and opinions. They were the self-appointed wise who prided themselves on their hard won and rigidly held security and identity. They could never risk exposing themselves to an alternative perception of life and faith — especially one like Jesus who flouted the Sabbath law and mixed with the untouchables!
Humility and trust, like that of the little ones, is the gateway to the treasures Jesus is offering us. A popular song of a few years ago puts it well. “Put your hand in the hand of the man from Galilee.” Putting your hand in somebody else’s is a gesture of intimacy, which is very characteristic of children with their parents. To a loving father or mother, a child will give its hand unquestioningly, with complete trust. Holding his or her father’s hand there is nowhere the child will not venture. It is not only willing to be led but positively wants to be brought somewhere. Somewhere in the growing up process we outgrow our dependency on our parents and having lost the need for their guidance, even God can become remote for us. Only those who are children at heart can fully understand what Jesus tells us about God — that God reveals Himself to “mere children.”
Growing up means ceasing to be dependent. We exchange a child’s dependence on people for an adult’s dependence on things, like money, alcohol, success, and influence. But these props are notoriously fickle and the adult world is often plagued by stress and anxiety. Our props may provide temporary relief but can still leave us — as Jesus puts it — “labouring and burdened;” labouring under illusions of grandeur and burdened with unrealistic targets. The heaviest load we have to carry is that of our own unfulfilled ambitions, the burden of our bruised egos. Only a return to humility can restore our lost innocence and our lost paradise., that honest humility that accepts our creature-status, our status as children before God. To enjoy the peace of Christ we must “put our hand in the hand of the man from Galilee’, who guides us along life’s journey and helps us to find the way home.
The Abbey of Saint-Honorat in Southern France has a medieval figure of the crucified Christ in the Abbey Church. What makes it noteworthy is the smile on Jesus’ face. The crucified One, hanging on the cross with his eyes closed and head tilted to the right, is smiling. Considering the pain that Jesus endured this is rather strange. But I imagine that at the end when he said, ‘it is finished’ his heart was at peace and he did smile. He had finally accomplished ever so faithfully all that the Father asked of him. He had put his hand, trustingly, in the hand of his Father all his life. Now he could take leave of this world and greet his beloved Father with a broad smile. All is accomplished and salvation is assured.
In his turn, Jesus is now saying to us, ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest.’ Despite all our problems, we trust him when he says, my yoke is easy and my burden light.
Sunday, 9th July 2017