Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 – Isaac’s servant meets Rebekah at the well/spring, and takes her back to meet, and marry Isaac.
Zechariah 9:9-12 – Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Psalm 45:10-17 – For the Director of Music, a wedding song. Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention: Forget your people and your father’s house. Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord… In embroidered garments she is led to the king; her virgin companions follow her—those brought to be with her. Led in with joy and gladness, they enter the palace of the king.
Song of Solomon 2:8-13 – My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away, for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
Psalm 145:8-14 – The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.
Romans 7:15-25a – I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 – Repentance and comfort. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’
Prayer of the Day
You are great, O God, and greatly to be praised. You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. Grant that we may believe in you, call upon you, know you, and serve you, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Alleluia. Blessed are you, Lord of | heav’n and earth;
you have revealed these | things to infants. Alleluia. (Matt. 11:25)
Many thanks to Don Carlson, for help researching these reflections.
Zechariah – Prisoners of Hope
Cyrus the Great ruled Persia from 559-530 BCE. As “King of Kings” and God’s messiah (Isaiah 45:1), he allowed those captive in Babylon to return to Jerusalem. He died shortly thereafter and was succeeded by his son, Cambyses II, who ruled for 8 years. He was succeeded by his brother, Bardia, who only ruled for several months. He was succeeded by Darius I, who ruled from 522-486 BCE and was on the throne of Persia during the time of Zechariah (1:1).
Point? Zechariah’s time isn’t too long after Cyrus the Great. People haven’t left Babylon yet. Nehemiah dates from the reign of Artaxerxes, 465-424 BCE; Ezra perhaps 50 years later.
And so, after much apocalyptic visioning (Zechariah 1-8; apocalyptic literature may be of Babylonian influence), there is encouragement in 9-14 (maybe later by another author) to “Return to your stronghold (Jerusalem) you prisoners of hope.”
Jerusalem will become the center of the world (14:8-9). Of course, there was more than a little rivalry as to where the “center of the world” was; the picture to the left is of the stone in Delphi that marked the “navel” of the world. But, the “Jerusalem as center of the world restoration project” never materialized; the empires of Persia, Greece, and Rome would hold sway. “Centers of the world” wax and wane.
This is perhaps why the words of Zechariah got usurped and projected onto a future messianic figure: Jesus (Some people may wonder if it’s already Palm Sunday). Prisoners living in hope of deliverance are always waiting and looking. And maybe – perhaps just maybe – although usurped and projected, the “center of the world” hope never went away?
Consider the final scene in Tolkien’s Two Towers. Trapped and under assault in the fortress of Helm’s Deep, the alliance of Middle Earth seems certainly doomed. Theoden says, “What can men do against such reckless hate? The Horn of Helm Hammerhand will sound in the deep, one last time!” The ancient horn is sounded and Theoden and Aragorn ride out “for death and glory.” Aragorn remembers the words of Gandalf, “Look to my coming on the first light of the fifth day, at dawn look to the east.” And then, amid the hopeless darkness before the dawn, out of the blinding sunrise rides Gandalf the White, Eomer, and the Rohirrim. It is the apocalyptic battle between light and darkness; darkness is vanquished.
That’s the common vision of deliverance for many hopeless prisoners of hope. Grand. Glorious. Apocalyptic. But does it have anything to do with the triumphant and victorious king who comes “humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” In short, “Prisoners of hope, for what exactly – for whom exactly – are you hoping? Are you really hoping to be made the center of the world?” Which, I suppose, is our sinful propensity – incurvatus in se – which should get you into Romans 7:15-25, should you want to go that route. Let us go that route – via Matthew.
But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ’We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
What do we hear in Jesus’ words? Maybe something akin to this,
The Baptist came and his bed was too hard for you. The Son of Man comes and his bed’s too soft. Now tell me, in your fairy tale religious world, what vision of the kingdom will be just right for you? What are you looking for, anyway? What exactly do you want from God?
We piped for you, but you would not dance.
John came as an ascetic, and he was rejected by the religious leaders. Then, along came Jesus, who bent the rules, ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners. Him, they called a glutton and a drunk. You can win.
The Fourth of July weekend, there will be – whether spoken or not – the hope that “Battle Hymn of the Republic” or “God Bless America” will somehow work their way into the service. Rather than avoid it, I think the texts are an opportunity to address those latent apocalyptic hopes and dreams head on.
Without getting into the “under God,” pledge debate, or the, should we have “In God We Trust” on our currency? debate, consider that almost everyone – nations included – trusts in God. The real question is, “In what kind of god do you trust?”
The Taliban believes they live life “under God.” The Sunnis and the Shiites – the Israelis and the Palestinians – everyone intones the name of God. Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, the leaders in Iran, both Cortez and Montezuma, the Christian crusaders that “killed Turks for Jesus,” Reverend Phelps who proclaimed that “God Hates Fags”, both George Armstrong Custer and Sitting Bull, the anti-abortionist who murdered a doctor because life is sacred – the list could go on and on, but all trusted or trust in their god.
No matter what the currency says, everyone says “In God We Trust.” Almost every person believes that they are “under God,” and every nation believes that they are the “one nation under God.” But the real issue is: In what god do you put your trust? And: What do you trust God to do? It’s not necessarily even about which god; it’s about what kind of god. Different views of the same God have different kinds of agendas – different kinds of “royal agendas.” The question for us is, “Is the God we have in mind in sync with the mind of Christ?” In Jesus we meet a humble and compassionate king on a donkey who challenges the royal ways of the world.
The possibility of compassion is basic to the heart of God. But the possibility of compassion is precisely what the royal wants to eradicate. Compassion is the ability and willingness to care, to suffer, to die, and to feel. It is the enemy of the royal life. Royal economics is designed to keep people satisfied so that they do not notice. Royal politics is intended to block out the cries of the denied ones. Royal religion is to be an opiate so that no one discerns the misery that is alive in the heart of God.
– [Quote source unknown]
These are weighty words to consider as we debate health care in this country, especially as it impacts the poorest among us.
Personal, ecclesiastical, and nationalistic incurvatus in se (being turned in upon ourselves) is what these texts address. It is “the kingdom of heaven” against the “royal agendas” of the world; agendas in which we are all entangled and complicit. What’s our agenda? Ought we be the center of the world?
Humanity used to believe that our world was the center of the universe; that everything revolved around us. Maybe, despite all our scientific knowledge, we have not come all that far. What is our hope? Who is our hope?
At camp we used to call this “the do-do passage.”
For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.
Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Sin is defined, as we said above, as being turned in upon ourselves. Self-centeredness, as opposed to being centered on God and neighbor, is our malady. In Romans 7, Paul describes his humanity in a way that people really hang onto: I want to do good, but I can’t. And the bad stuff I don’t want to do, I find myself doing.
…I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
Paul describes what we all experience. I want to be generous, but somewhere within me, greed rises up. I want to say “no” to that bad habit, but urges arise within my flesh that I cannot seem to quell. It is as if there is spiritual warfare going on inside of me. The law is of no use. The only thing that seems to have any effect is faith in Christ, being bound up in the love of Christ.
Putting our faith in Christ, following in the footsteps of the one who lived in love of God and neighbor, stranger and enemy – this is my only hope. Paul addresses the self-centeredness of nationalism, militarism, greed, and corporate sin with the antidotes of faith, hope and love. If we think a religion of laws will get us where we need to go, we are sorely mistaken. Who will deliver us from this body of death? Only faith in Christ and the faith of Christ.