"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

14th SUNDAY (A) July 5, 2020

Zechariah 9: 9-10; Psalm 145; Romans 8: 9, 11-13; Matthew 11: 25-30

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

SO SORRY! Our email list was hacked last week and some of you received dozens of "First Impressions" emails asking if you wanted to continue, or unsubscribe. Glad you stayed and sorry for the hassle. What kind of people do things like that!


What a painful, eye-opening time to celebrate our country’s independence – when all over the land we hear voices that tell us, while some of us feel free, so many others have been severely limited and victimized by racism. I heard an African American mother tell how she had to explain to her two boys how to behave on the streets; what to say if are stopped by the police. She said, "They are excellent students, good kids, with plans for college. Yet, each time they go out wearing a hoodie, I’m afraid they might return dead. This is more than I expected to have to endure when they were born. Back then, I was a happy, new mother, but I should have known better. I suffered racist taunts growing up, but I thought our struggles during the civil rights movement would have cleared the air for my kids. But it hasn’t – just watch the evening news." Violence and distress mark these days. Things have to change and people are rightly impatient for that change to happen.

Zechariah and Jesus were no less distressed by the world in which they lived. The prophet Zechariah offers an apocalyptic vision, looking and hoping for a future time when conflict will end and those faithful to God will, "Rejoice heartily." The savior will come to Jerusalem, not as a victorious general riding on a warhorse into the city, but a gentle leader riding a donkey. Zechariah envisions a king who will banish the instruments of war, chariots, warhorses and bow. The king will declare peace for all the nations, "from the River [Euphrates] to the ends of the Earth."

Zechariah was posting what people today yearn for amid the turmoil; leadership not by might and forceful suppression, but by the virtue of meekness. Zechariah is calling his contemporaries not to look to oppressive leaders, but to those who will bring peace. The coming king, in the prophet’s vision, will govern the oppressed and fallen by means of peacemaking, reconciliation and gentleness. In this ruler people will realize God has come to their aid. And more: this ruler will reveal the kind of God the people have, a God who seeks reconciliation and peace among all peoples. The face of the one God sends will reveal the face of God.

Our Responsorial Psalm today is from Psalm 145, and in it we acknowledge and turn to the God Zechariah proclaims, "I will praise your name for ever my King and my God."

These days it doesn’t feel like much has changed from the distress-filled days of Zechariah; not with violent protests and military troops on our streets. We pray our Responsorial Psalm today in gratitude for the people of peace whom God has given us, voices of awareness and reconciliation. Like the prophet they keep us focused on God’s ways as we pray in the words of the Psalm, "The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness." Stirred by our Psalm we pray, "O God, fill us with your Spirit, make us merciful, filled with great kindness, like you, as we strive to be your instruments of peace in our troubled world."

When all around us seems to be distress and disorder, we need help if we are to be the peaceful face of God in the world. God has seen our need and sent us the one Zechariah promised, who entered Jerusalem on a donkey and proclaimed "peace to the nations." Jesus does not bang us on our heads with new laws and discipline. He offers peace to those who come to him. He doesn’t dictate to us from afar, but offers to be our yoke mate. Farm beasts were yoked in pairs to increase their plowing ability.

That is the image Jesus gave his contemporaries and us: we disciples are not on our own to face present and future challenges to his ways of peace. He invites us to draw close to him, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me." The ground is hard and rocky, we need strength and perseverance if we are to plow and plant seeds of peace in our world – and that "world" can be as close as our own family members and neighbors. Staying "yoked" to Christ can help us overcome the anxiety caused by the pandemic and social unrest that marks our days and promises to alter our futures.

These days are testing us in many ways, but in some they are not unique. "Learn from me" – throughout our Christian lives Jesus invites us to follow his way of meekness: loving, serving and forgiving. He assures us that we are not left on our own to follow his teachings and live his life. He showed the face of a loving God to the world and, yoked to him, we can do the same. Being a Christian demands everything we have to live as Jesus lived and in his spirit we are united to him so that we can follow his law of love.

Meekness seems like a useless and impossible virtue in our modern world with all its dangerous weapons and aggressions. But the gospel today invites us to try practicing meekness (we "practice" because we will never get it perfect) by: disarming our own hearts; not returning anger against anger; using our personal authority to stand with the powerless and those deprived of a chance for a full life.

Jesus was "meek and humble of heart" because he chose to be that way. He could have used power to gain a following, to conquer his opponents and overwhelm the towns that rejected him. Instead he used his power to stay committed to

God and God’s ways and to share the life of the "little ones" who accepted him. They had suffered at the hands of the powers of the world, and Jesus will too. They only had God as their support and future and Jesus’ own faith was the assurance to them that their trust in God was not misplaced.

P.S. This is a particularly rough time for prisoners. Would you consider dropping a card to a death row inmate? Each week we post names of 3 inmates on North Carolina’s death row. See below for this week’s names.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/070520.cfm