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14thSUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle A)

Readings:
Zechariah 9:9-10
Psalm 145:1-2, 8-11, 13-14
Romans 8:9, 11-13
Matthew 11:25-30

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for mankind.  That is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: The Kingdom of the Promised Messiah
God's holy prophets promised the fulfillment of the eternal covenant Yahweh made with the House of David in the promised coming of a Davidic Messiah whose rule was to extend over all nations.  In the First Reading, the sixth century BC prophet Zechariah describes a vision of the future Messiah's entry into the holy city of Jerusalem.  He will not come, Zechariah writes, as a conquering king.  The promised kingly heir of David will come to His people as a just Savior, meek and humble and riding on the foal of an ass. 

In the Responsorial Psalm, attributed to King David of Israel, David acknowledges an authority greater than himself.  It is Almighty God who is the Greater King, and David is His humble servant.  David was, like all human beings, an imperfect man.  However, he loved God with all his heart and was always ready to confess his sins and to accept God's punishments to restore his relationship with his Lord and God.  It was for this reason that Yahweh chose to make an eternal covenant with David, promising that his throne would endure forever in a Davidic Messiah who would rule with God's authority over all the earth. 

In the Second Reading, St. Paul writes that Jesus' Law of love gives the promise of new life in the Spirit.  Unlike life in the flesh, life in the Spirit promises eternal "rest" that is life in fellowship with God both in the present and a future reality that the Spirit guarantees.  Living in the spirit of Christ, Christians look forward to being alive in the future in a way that makes the present reality of life in the flesh a pale counterfeit kind of living.   

Jesus fulfilled Zechariah's vision of the Davidic Messianic King when He rode into the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Gospel Reading).  The crowds on Palm Sunday recognized the Messianic significance of Jesus of Nazareth riding into the holy city just as the prophet Zechariah described and called out to Him, "Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the king of Israel" (Jn 12:13; also Lk 19:38).  Jesus is meek and humble like Moses (Num 12:3).  He is the new David and the new Moses.  Moses brought the Law of God to the first covenant people, but Jesus is the new lawgiver who brings with His Kingdom a new Law of love that is an easier burden to bear than the rigid commands the Israelites bore under the yoke of the old Law.  In the sacrifice of the Mass, we also call out "Hosanna/Save us, to God in the highest," as we acknowledge Jesus as our Savior and eternal King.

The First Reading Zechariah 9:9-10
9 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.  10 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.

Zechariah answered his prophetic call in 520 BC when the Babylonian exile had ended and God's people were returning to Judah under the protection of Cyrus, king of Persia.  The first half of the Book of Zechariah (chapters 1-8) contains eight symbolic visions which are related to the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple and are meant to encourage the return of the exiles under the leadership of the High Priest Yehoshua/Joshua (Jesus) and governor Zerubbabel.  The second part of the book is divided into two parts.  The first part (chapters 9-11) offers the messianic vision of the coming of the Prince of Peace while the second part (chapter 12) opens with an oracle proclaiming the victory of God's covenant people over unbelievers and closes with a prophecy describing, in apocalyptic imagery, the final assault on Jerusalem, the return of the Messianic king, and His victory over Israel's enemies. 

In our reading, Zechariah gives an oracle prophesying the future triumphant appearance of the humble Messianic king as He enters Jerusalem.  He will not come as a conquering warrior riding in a chariot or on a war horse.  Instead, he will come in peace, meekly riding on the colt of an ass.  Each of the Gospel writers takes up this prophetic description of the Messiah entering Jerusalem and proclaims its fulfillment in Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  They either directly quote the Zechariah passage or relate how Jesus rode into the city as described in the prophecy (Mt 21:1-5; Mk 11:1-10; Lk 19:29-38; Jn 12:15).  Jesus is the humble Davidic Messiah prophesied by Zechariah.  He is the blessed One promised by the psalmist who comes in the "name of the Lord" (Ps 118:26) to establish peace (Zec 9:10a) and whose dominion will be over all nations and peoples of the earth (Zec 9:10b; also see Dan 7:14).

Responsorial Psalm 145:1-2, 8-11, 13-14
The response is: "I will praise your name forever, my king and my God."  Or "Alleluia."

1 I will praise extol you, O my God and King, and I will bless your name forever and ever.  2 Every day will I bless you, and I will praise your name forever and ever.  
Response:
8 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness.  9 The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all his works.
Response:
10 Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD, and let your faithful ones bless you.  11 Let them discourse of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might.
Response:
13b The LORD is faithful in all his words and holy in all his works.  14 The LORD lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.
Response:

The title of this Psalm is: "Praise. Of David," attributing this psalm to King David of Israel.  David is king of Israel but he acknowledges a higher authority, God the Greater King.  In verses 1-2 the psalmist wants to praise Yahweh "every day" and "forever."  His devotion and gratitude knows no bounds.  St. John Chrysostom wrote: "Devotion to praise is a mark of the truly filial heart.  He who praises the Lord every day will praise him for the eternal Day" (Expositio in Psalmos, 144.2).

8 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness.  9 The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all his works.
In verses 8-9 the psalmist turns his focus to the goodness of God, quoting words from Exodus 34:6-7 that refer to the God of the Covenant with Israel; it is goodness that is not limited to Israel but which God extends to all.

10 Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD, and let your faithful ones bless you.  11 Let them discourse of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might.  13b The LORD is faithful in all his words and holy in all his works. 
The Lord deserves praise for all His works from all His faithful ones.  It is through God's works that His glory is revealed.

14 The LORD lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.
This verse speaks of the universal reach of God's kingdom which can be seen in the way He protects all the weak and disadvantaged.  This verses expresses the theme of Psalm 145: Yahweh's kingdom is a universal kingdom of justice because He responds with goodness and salvation to all who invoke His name and love Him.  The meek and humble Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, fulfills the description of the merciful great King who ushers in a Gospel of love and compassion, calling all men and women who love Him to enter into His Kingdom of the Church and to live by His example.

The Second Reading Romans 8:9, 11-13 ~ Life in the Spirit
9 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.
11 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.  12 Consequently, brothers and sisters, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.  13 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.

In Romans 7:24, St. Paul asked the rhetorical question "Who will rescue me from this body doomed to death?" His simple answer in verse 25 was that Jesus Christ is our rescuer, but in chapter 8 St. Paul provides a more in-depth response.  The opening verse introduces what is the main theme of this chapter: the Christian has been set free from the condemnation of sin and death by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.  Life is what the Holy Spirit guarantees!

After the fall of Adam and Eve that resulted in the disgraced (absence of grace) condition of all humanity, original sin became our inheritance and set two directions or two choices before those of us who were born into this disgraced state:

  1. Either we continue to seek the will of God in our lives and fight against the inclination to enter into sin, or
  2. We allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the selfish desires of the flesh and seek our own life apart from God.

In essence, this is the choice between supernatural life through the Holy Spirit or the animal life of the flesh. 

St. Paul assures us that the Holy Spirit has set the Christian free. In Romans 8:2 St. Paul writes that the law of the Spirit which gives life in Christ has set you free.  It is a freedom that comes to us from the new law of the Gospel of Jesus Christ founded on love, grace, and freedom.  These three aspects that are present in the new law were absent in the Old Law:

This freedom is a direct result of the saving work of God the Son (also see Rom 6:18, 20, 22; 2 Cor 3:17; Gal 5:1, 13; and CCC# 1972).

The source of this life of freedom lived "according to the Spirit" is sanctifying grace.  It is the gift of grace the Christian receives in baptism when he becomes infused with the life of the Most Holy Trinity through the power of the Holy Spirit to heal [of sin] and to sanctify our souls.  It is a grace that permanently adheres to the soul of the Christian.  However, the sanctifying grace that liberates us from domination of the flesh and places us under the Law of the Spirit does not prevent sin from continuing to threaten our freedom.  St. John Chrysostom warned Christians: "We need to submit to the Spirit, to wholeheartedly commit ourselves and strive to keep the flesh in its place.  By so doing our flesh will become spiritual again.  Otherwise, if we give in to the easy life, this will lower our soul to the level of the flesh and make it carnal again" (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, #13; also see CCC# 1266 & 1999).

In verse 11 Paul assures us: 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.  The reality is that every day we are alive in our physical bodies is another step toward physical death.  No matter what we "invest" in our earthly bodies, it is a short term investment.  The body, because of the effects of sin, is doomed to physical death and is an instrument of spiritual death.  Through the regenerative waters of our baptism, we are alive in the spirit of Christ.  He has justified (made righteous in the sight of God) the believer, and we look forward to a final resurrection at the end of time when we will receive new bodies which are imperishable.  Living in the spirit of Christ, Christians look forward to being alive in a way that makes the present reality of life in the flesh a pale counterfeit kind of living.  Investing in life in the Spirit is a long term investment that will reap enormous benefits because God stands behind that investment.

In verses 12-13 Paul draws a conclusion from what he has written so far in this chapter: A fallen human nature no longer dominates the baptized Christian.  If the Christian chooses to put the "flesh" to death by continuing to live in the Spirit, he will truly have life as God intended: a life in eternal communion with God. 

The Gospel of Matthew 11:25-30 ~ Jesus' Prayer of Thanksgiving and His Invitation
25 At that time Jesus said in reply, "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 the childlike.  26 Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.  27 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. 28 Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.  30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

In verse 25, Jesus gives thanks for those of childlike faith.  They are the ones who accepted St. John's baptism of repentance and who have, by the grace of God the Holy Spirit, experienced the conversion of heart that is necessary to open their minds and hearts to welcome Jesus the promised Messiah who is God the Son.  The Catechism teaches that what moves us toward belief is not just being convinced of revealed truths that are intelligible in the light of our natural reason, but we believe "because the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived."  Moved by the Holy Spirit, our faith is more certain than our human intellect because it is founded on the Word of God who does not lie and is Himself "Truth" (see CCC 154-157).

In His prayer, Jesus reveals a great theological truth not previously revealed.  He reveals that He is the revelation of the Father; He and the Father are One (see CCC 73, 221, 238-42, 2798).  Notice that Jesus offers the Father vocal prayer.  We often focus on meditation and silent prayer and forget the necessity of vocal prayer.  Vocal prayer was not only an essential element of liturgical life in the Synagogue and in Temple liturgy for the Old Covenant people of God, but it is an essential part of New Covenant Christian life especially in the sacrifice of the Mass (CCC 2701).  This moment is not the first time Jesus has prayed aloud to the Father.  Jesus taught His disciples the great vocal prayer that unites us as children in the family of God, the Lord's Prayer (see Mt 6:9-13).  Jesus will offer a vocal prayer at the Last Supper which is usually called Jesus' "High Priestly Prayer" (Jn 14-17; CCC 2604), and He will also speak aloud His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane in His time of agony when His soul cries out to the Father. 

Matthew 11:28-30 ~ Jesus' Invitation to Come to Him
28 "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.  30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Only one other prophet in the Old Testament is called "meek," and that is Moses (Num 12:3).  Jesus is not only the new Moses, but He is the greater than Moses.  Moses was God's friend (Ex 34:12, 17), but Jesus is the Son of God (Mt 3:17).  Jesus' invitation to bear His "yoke" recalls one of the reoccurring images of the Old Testament prophets for the people in covenant union with God: the image of domesticated animals.  Domesticated animals like oxen either respond obediently or resist the "yoke" of their master just as the covenant people either respond in obedience to the commands of Yahweh or stubbornly resist (see the complete chart "Symbolic Images of the Old Testament Prophets" in the chart section). 

Image Part I Covenant relationship Part II Rebellion Part III Redemptive Judgment Part IV Restoration Fulfilled
Animals Domesticated animals obedient to the Master's yoke Resist the yoke; run away and become wild Ravaged by wild beasts/birds of prey Rescued by their Master
examples inScripture Mic 4:13; Is 40:10-11; 65:25; Ez 34:15-16 Ex 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9; Dt 9:6, 13; Is 50:6; 53:6; Jer 5:5d-6; 8:6b-7; 23:1-2; Ez 19:1-9 Is 50:7; Jer 8:15-17; 50:6-7; Ho 8:1-14; 13:6-8 Mt 11:28-30; Jn 1:29, 36; 10:1-18; Heb 3:20; Rev 5:6, 13; 7:9-17; 14:1-10; 19:2-9; 21:9-23; 22:1-3

In the Old Testament, God through His prophets often accused the rebellious Israelites of being "stiff-necked."  Domesticated cattle wear a yoke when being directed by their master. Obedient oxen do not strain against the yoke but willingly follow the direction of their master. "Stiff-necked" refers to animals like oxen that strain against their yoke.  These animals refuse to yield and to be guided by the master's yoke, like the Israelites who refused to be obedient to the Law of God their divine Master (see Ex 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9; Dt 9:6, 13; 10:16; 2 Chr 30:8; Acts 7:51).

Jesus makes a promise to us in His invitation in this passage to "Come to me" and to take up His "yoke of obedience."  He promises that His yoke will not cause us distress and we will find "rest" in Him.  Jesus' promise of "rest" recalls two events:

  1. The seventh day of Creation (see Gen 2:1-3).
  2. The command concerning the Sabbath obligation for the members of the Sinai Covenant (Ex 20:8-11; 34:21; 35:1-3; Dt 5:12-15). 

The Sabbath rest of Creation and the Sinai Covenant obligation of the Sabbath rest are significant links to Jesus' invitation and promise in Matthew 11:28-30. On the seventh day of Creation, God "rested," and the Sabbath observance was commanded to be a day of "rest."  The purpose of the Sabbath obligation was for members of God's covenant family to enter into His "rest" and to have fellowship/communion with Him just as Adam and Eve had fellowship with God on the seventh day of Creation. 

Jesus' promise of "rest" in verse 29 is an allusion to the New Covenant Sabbath.  The Hebrew word for the seventh day of the week is the noun sabbat, and it is from the Hebrew root sbt [sabat], the verb which means "to rest" or "to cease."  The combination sabbat sabbaton, "Sabbath of complete rest," is used for the seventh day in Exodus 32:5 and Leviticus 23:3, for the feast of Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement] in Leviticus 16:3-12; 23:32, for the feast of Trumpets in Leviticus 23:24, and for the Sabbath year in Leviticus 25:4 (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5, "Sabbath," page 849).  For Christians it is an invitation that has a present and a future reality:

It is life in the Spirit that makes both the present and future "rest" possible for the believer. Jesus' His invitation to "come" to Him leads to His promise that those who come to Him and obediently "wear His yoke" (follow the teachings of Jesus "the Master") will have "rest"/fellowship/communion with God the Son.  Jesus' "yoke" is easy (verse 30) because it is His law of love and life in the Spirit through which we enter into the "rest" of His kingdom (Jn 13:34-35; 15:9-12).  You cannot profess belief without demonstrating your belief in obedience to the gentle "yoke" of the Savior.

Catechism References:

Zechariah 9:9-10 (CCC 559)

Psalm 145:9 (CCC 295, 342)

Romans 8:9 (CCC 693); 8:11 (CCC 632, 658, 693, 695, 989, 990)

Matthew 11:25-27 (CCC 2603, 2779); 11:25-26 (CCC 2701); 11:25-26 (CCC 2701); 11:25 (CCC 153, 544, 2785); 11:27 (CCC 151, 240, 443, 473); 11:28 (1658); 11:20-30 (1615); 11:29 (CCC 459)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014