On the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, openness and acceptance were prominent themes in the readings. Today’s readings build on these ideas while emphasizing the assistance and protection that come from God.
The Lord supports all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.
Do you pray to God for relief during difficult moments?
In what ways can Scripture enhance your prayer life?
How can you help people in your community who are struggling?
In the first reading, from Zechariah, the prophet describes a time of peace and holiness. As his community had experienced invasion, war and exile, Zechariah prophesies that a divine warrior king will dismantle armies and destroy weapons to bring peace throughout the world. Sometimes, the divine warrior imagery in the Old Testament seems problematic in its depiction of a violent God. While these concerns are valid and caution is needed when wrestling with such images, for communities who endured hardship, these images could be a saving grace and a reflection of divine love.
Zechariah speaks of his community as “daughter Zion, daughter Jerusalem,” feminine epithets that reflect the familial connection between the people and the land that many were forced to leave during exile. The language of “daughter” also heightens the bonds between the community and a parental God. The Gospel of Matthew depicts Jesus speaking of his followers in a similar manner. When Jesus offers thanks to the Father in heaven for revealing information to his followers, he refers to them as “little ones” or “infants.” This language expresses tenderness and Jesus’ interest in the community’s spiritual growth and development.
Jesus proclaims his connection to the Father; and he encourages people, especially those who are burdened or weary, to join him to receive rest. In the context of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus may be relieving his followers from some of the requirements of Jewish laws. He uses the agrarian image of yoking an animal as a metaphor for the difficult task of keeping Jewish laws. Later in Matthew, Jesus speaks of Jewish leaders laying heavy burdens on others (Mt 23:4). In contrast, today’s Gospel presents Jesus’ teachings as gentle and comforting; although, as we read last week, Jesus also sets high standards for his followers. Yet the Gospel promises that in sharing Jesus’ yoke, his followers will also find rest, suggesting that Jesus himself offers assistance in our challenges.
The second reading, from Romans, takes notions of physical burdens of the flesh and calls for believers to focus instead on the Spirit of God within them. Paul exhorts the Roman community to recognize the Spirit of God, who enriches and empowers their lives. The Spirit resides not solely in their physical bodies, but in their midst, in their community of faith. Like Zechariah and Matthew, Paul calls the community to rely on God for assistance. As many people continue to struggle throughout the world, today’s readings assert God’s intimate connection to our lives, and they remind us to pray to God, especially in times of need.