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JULY 3, 2011: FOURTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

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

Back in the 70s, Scripture scholars began to speak of "trajectories" through faith: ideas, thoughts, movements that never seem to win over the majority, but eventually help some people of faith shift the way their faith affects their everyday lives. We find some of these trajectories in today's three readings.

Zechariah, for instance, certainly isn't in the mainstream of 6th century BCE Jewish thought when he shares his dream of a future Jewish king who'll come into power "... meek and riding on an ass ... 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." (Remind you of Palm Sunday?)

All Israelites wanted peace. They longed to live tranquil lives. But they presumed this change could only happen in one of two ways. Either they would conquer all the warring nations around them, or those nations would eventually give up warring. One would have officially been classified as crazy if he or she, like Zechariah, thought the peace process would begin by Israel disarming unilaterally!

The prophet's words echo through Jesus' famous invitation, "Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, my burden light."

Matthew's Jesus presumes few people actually fit the category of "meek and humble of heart." That's why he begins his pericope by conceding the Father has "... hidden these things from the wise and learned (and) revealed them to the little ones."

My old biblical archeology prof Robert North adamantly held the opinion that the historical Jesus never intended his followers to be more than a small minority in the communities in which they found themselves. "It's a rare person," the Jesuit scholar reasoned, "actually willing to carry out Jesus' teachings. The lukewarm majority are never going to change anything." For North, Jesus' little ones are few and far between. Most who claim to be followers of Jesus are content just to tread water.

Though Paul never gets involved in numbers or percentages, he presumes those who are determined to follow Jesus' trajectory are exceptional individuals. He reminds the Christian community in Rome, "You are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in YOU . . . We are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 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."

Yet, no matter how "spirited" we are, we still live our lives "in the flesh." We can't escape being human.

One of the key aspects of Teilhard de Chardin's belief in Jesus' eventual Second Coming is that each of us, by the way we live our lives, has an obligation to help make that event a reality. We're not going to be in the audience, applauding the show when the Parousia arrives. According to Teilhard, we're going to be up on the stage, part of the "show." Jesus won't come without our participation.

Trajectories in faith are essential if our faith is ever going to change our world. But if we're waiting for huge numbers of people to agree and join us in latching on to those trajectories, we're going to be waiting for a long time. Jesus once reminded us, "You build the monuments to the prophets your ancestors killed!"

It takes generations before the exceptional become the norm. If a few exceptional people don't risk taking a ride on those faith trajectories, we'll always be stuck "in the flesh." We'll never leave this world.