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The word this week

The kind of king who arrived on a donkey

Fourteenth Sunday: Zec 9:9-19; Rm 8:9 and 11-13; Mt 11:25-30

By on Thursday, 30 June 2011

‘See now, your king comes to you; he is victorious, he is triumphant, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The world addressed by the words of the Prophet Zechariah was not accustomed to humility in its triumphant victors. A triumphant king would be welcomed into his city with a display of power. Vanquished prisoners and armed troops would normally precede the king’s arrival in a gilded chariot. The king took possession of his city in a carefully stage-managed display of power.

The Prophet Zechariah completely reversed these expectations when he described the coming Messiah as “humble and riding on a donkey”. He was, in effect, saying that Israel’s salvation was to be achieved by a very different kind of king. His triumph would be achieved through the humility that rests in God. He would bring peace to the nations, the kind of peace that is rooted in humility rather than sinful might.

Throughout his ministry Jesus witnessed to the strength that comes from the Father. He constantly criticised the power and wealth that sinful pride amasses to itself. It was in this sense that Jesus exalted mere children above the learned and the clever. “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.”

Jesus was not, of course, condemning the proper achievements of human reason and intelligence. What he condemned was the self-sufficiency that rejoices in itself, that has no sense of its dependence upon God. Jesus described himself as having learnt everything from the Father. He understood himself only in terms of a living relationship with the Father. Those he described as “mere children” are those who, with him, live the humility that has recognised its dependence on the Father. “No one knows the Father except the Son, and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

The kind of humility that Jesus described does not come to us naturally. Sinful nature prefers to trust to its own solutions in life’s difficulties. When all else has failed, we reluctantly turn to prayer.

Jesus taught that prayer is the constant attitude of the truly humble: “Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.”

The constant prayer that Jesus envisaged creates an attitude of trust. There is an inner exhaustion of spirit that inevitably overwhelms those who trust only in themselves. We cannot achieve what our hearts desire, and if we attempt to do so in isolation the burden soon proves to be more than we can bear.

We must learn to trust, to believe that Christ came to shoulder the burden of our sinfulness. He has already assumed the burden that threatens to overwhelm us. Therefore he invites us to come to him, to shoulder his yoke and learn from him, for he is gentle and humble in heart. Here alone shall we find rest for our souls.

Jesus concluded with the words: “Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Such words do not dismiss the trials that confront us in this life. They proclaim that when we rest in God no burden can overwhelm his life within us. It is through a life of constant prayer that we learn to rest in the Father.