JULY 9TH, 2017: FOURTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
Thus says the LORD:
Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion,
shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king shall come to you;
a just savior is he,
meek, and riding on an ass,
on a colt, the foal of 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.
His dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Brothers and sisters:
You are not in the flesh;
on the contrary, you are in the spirit,
if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
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.
Consequently, brothers and sisters,
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.
At that time Jesus exclaimed:
"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.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him."
"Come to me, all you 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, and my burden light."
According to some traditions, during the official ceremony of General Cornwallis’ October 19, 1791 surrender to George Washington at Yorktown, ending the Revolutionary War, the British got the last laugh. Its band sarcastically played a well-known musical ditty entitled The World Turned Upside Down. The song’s lyrics pointed out the absurdity of the world’s military giant surrendering to the 13 Colonies’ ragtag army: “If buttercups buzzed after the bees, if boats were on land and churches on sea, if ponies rode men and grass ate the cows . . . then all the world would be upside down.”
Whether that particular song was actually played during the surrender or not, The World Turned Upside Down could certainly be a valid subtitle for our Sacred Scriptures. Today’s three sacred authors agree.
The prophet Zechariah sets the theme. Probably active shortly after the Chosen People’s 6th century BCE Babylonian Exile, he paints an ideal picture of a restored Holy Land. But the Messiah/King he depicts isn’t the leader most people are anticipating. Though “his dominion shall be from sea to sea and from the River (the Euphrates) to the ends of the earth,” he won’t be a king who depends on military might. According to Zechariah, this king “. . . shall come to you . . . meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass.” Military leaders don’t ride donkeys; they ride horses. Israel’s future messianic king will be unique. He’ll not only refuse to ground his monarchy on military might, he’ll actually disarm the entire country! No one has ever experienced such a king or such a nation. (If by now you’re suspecting the four evangelists based their narratives of Jesus’ “Palm Sunday” entrance into Jerusalem on Zechariah 9, you’re not alone. Every Scripture scholar I know shares your suspicions.)
This image of an upside-down world is certainly carried over into the Christian Scriptures.
Paul, for instance, warns the Christian community in Rome not to go through life depending solely on what they can experience through the “flesh.” For followers of the risen Jesus, there’s a whole other world, a world which the Spirit creates every day of our lives. It’s in this dying/rising world that we’re expected to live. That’s why the Apostle assures us, “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.” Only by giving ourselves over to Jesus’ Spirit can we faithfully imitate Jesus’ upside-down behavior.
Once we do that, Matthew’s Jesus tells us we’ll begin looking at the people around us through different eyes. No longer do we focus on the rich and powerful, neither do we zero in only on the “wise and learned.” For followers of Jesus, the most important inhabitants of this planet are the “little ones:” those who daily go through life laboring and burdened. Imitating Jesus, our task is to provide “rest” for them, something people would logically put at the bottom of their “to do list,” if it even appears on it at all. For other Christs, the world’s top becomes the bottom, and the bottom, the top.
It’s ironic (or providential), considering America’s participation in World Wars I & II, if it weren’t for those victorious thirteen colonies, Great Britain, as we know it, might not even exist today.
Perhaps the only way to definitively save this world is to turn it upside down. Our sacred authors and the historical Jesus might have been centuries ahead of themselves in expecting their readers and followers to be motivated by such a preposterous value system. But, if it works . . .