Reflection on the Readings at Mass for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray. READINGS: Zechariah 9:9-10, Romans 8:9, 11-13, and Matthew 11:25-30.
How the Liturgy Participates in the Call of Christ Jesus for the Conversion of Jews
Today’s First Reading for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time comes from Zechariah 9:9-10, which belongs to a section of chapters in the prophet’s writings, beginning in chapter 9 and ending in chapter 14 that Biblical scholars have designated as being two collections of oracles. The early Christian Gospel writers found two benchmarks that the future Messiah would have to fulfill in this oracle, and they believed that Christ Jesus did. The first benchmark was that the Messiah would have been anointed King of Israel; second, as King of Israel, he would have to come riding into Jerusalem on what Zechariah said was, “an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass;” and third, as King, he would establish a reign of peace over all of the earth. The peace that Zechariah prophecies here is a corporeal type of peace – a peace from physical war, writing, “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.”
The response from Jewish apologists concerning Christian usage of this verse is fascinating because, in their critique of Christian prophecy, they end up accentuating its beauty, as in how a dash of salt enhances the intensity of the sweetness of a thing. The Jewish critique of the second benchmark is that riding into Jerusalem on a donkey 2,000 years ago was something almost everyone did since riding on a donkey was the primary mode of travel. They also press further here on how the writer of the Gospel of Matthew took Zechariah’s parallelism, writing, “on a colt, the foal of an ass,” literally, where Matthew 21:7 notes, “They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, and he sat upon them.” Here, the Jewish Apologist is probably correct, and that is why Mark and Luke, inasmuch as they do not try as hard as Matthew to make the Messianic fulfillment case to a Jewish audience, only mention Jesus riding into Jerusalem on one animal. It is true, Biblical parallelism is a common feature throughout the Old and New Testaments. One well-known example of Bible parallelism that we hear during the Rite of Purification in the liturgy of the Catholic Mass comes from Psalm 51:2, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” Here, the same desire is made twice for the purpose of emphasis, just as Zechariah may have meant it within this verse.
Aside from his valid critique of Matthew, the Jewish Apologist supplements the limits of his grace in claiming that Jesus did not fulfill the other two benchmarks because He was neither Israel’s King, nor did He inaugurate a utopian world of universal peace. Indeed, that is the conclusion that every Apologist should arrive at. Through the definitive limitations of logic and reason alone, the Apologist is left with only the conclusions that can be reached with the use of his senses. In the contrary, it was only by faith and divine revelation by which Simon Cephas was able to exclaim, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Today’s Second Reading from Romans 8:9, 11-13 also answers the Jewish Apologist’s disability of expectations. Certainly, the Jew is correct in one aspect of his expectations; he should have expected the Messiah to resolve the problems of the flesh through flesh, corporeal issues through a corporeal body, but he was in error not to expect God Himself to enter into the flesh to resolve the problem of the flesh by healing and regenerating man’s human nature above the mere passions of flesh. The ontological condition of the human nature, wounded from the fall of our first parents, is the reason why there is sin in the world that causes violence. Therefore, only a Divine cure could remedy the true cause of our sins. The Apostle Paul wrote about the visitation of Messiah this way, “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. 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.” Truly, as we all should have learned by now, but the Jewish Apologist has not; there is no peace in the flesh alone. For as long as we are not truly united with God, we are at war with God. Humans have always gotten the king that their heart desires and this is why Christians have found their eternal King in Christ Jesus and why the Jews are yet to find king in the world.
In Today’s Gospel Reading from Matthew 11:25-30, Christ Jesus responds to the opposition He received from the Jews with mercy, in that He affirms that their rejection of Him is a matter of their lack of humility, saying, “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.” Yet, there appears to be a conflict here in Jesus, saying that the wise and learned lack the disposition and beatitude of the humility to believe but then saying that “no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” So, which is it – is it a disposition or a choice from God? On the contrary, it is both – a gift and cooperation. That is, it is truly a gift as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Ephesus 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works so that no one may boast,” and it true what Saint Augustine wrote, “The God who created you without your cooperation, will not save you without your cooperation.”
The gift of faith from God is activated and becomes active through our yearning to believe. All can believe, and that is why all are called, as Christ called us in today’s reading saying, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Yes, we respond to the Jewish Apologist. Christ calls you to believe He is your King. You have been summonsed to your King, who is the King of Peace. For, peace is not something humans can achieve on their own, for they might boast about their accomplishments if they could. Rather, peace is a person named Christ Jesus.
For this reason, we Latin Rite Catholics have, in various arrangements of words, prayed since as early as the 3rd century in our Good Friday liturgy for the conversion of the Jews, saying:
Let us pray also for the faithless Jews: that Almighty God may remove the veil from their hearts; so that they too may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord. Almighty and eternal God, who does not exclude from His mercy even Jewish faithlessness: hear our prayers, which we offer for the blindness of that people; that acknowledging the light of your Truth, which is Christ, they may be delivered from their darkness. Through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the liturgy and how the liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the liturgy.