Dear daughter of Zion,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
Do you think that it is hard to climb the ladder of success, that it takes especial effort and determination and zeal? Do you put forth a lot of effort in order to be at the top of your class in school or to assert yourself towards a management position at work? Does it weigh heavy on you when people don’t seem to listen to you or consider your point of view or when your preferred course of action is not taken? It may feel that all you can do is to try harder, to buckle down, to be more assertive, to play the game harder than everyone else, to go out and get the job done.
There is something even harder, something more difficult, not that it takes more effort but that it requires us to stop trying. It is more difficult for us because it goes against our sinful nature that insists that we get to the top by our own virtues. It is a hard course of action to take because the world in which we live does not operate this way. They bite and scratch and claw their way up, and what are we supposed to do, just take it; let them walk all over us? It is our sinful inclination to fight back, to be more assertive so that our opinions are adopted, our voice is heard above all the others, and our course of action taken.
You can see it playing out on social media sites as one side amps up their arguments against another. Offense is taken where none was given just so that a counterpoint can be stated with more zeal. You can see it on the news as they report on politics and social justice movements and even local municipal matters. You can see it among your friends when a controversial topic is brought up, even at the family dinner table. It also happens in the quiet bedroom between husband and wife. There is a constant striving that I get my way, because my way is best, and it will be good for everyone, and I will be vindicated before all those who opposed me.
It is hard to fight for what you believe in, to take a stand and not let anyone push it aside. It takes effort to come out on top of arguments and disputes and to make sure that the best course of action is taken. But it is even harder to stop trying to assert ourselves over others. It is even harder to suffer the wrong course of action being taken. It is more difficult to remain calm and quiet while the other side rages away in their own quest for power and dominance. It goes against our nature to believe that the Lord will sort it out even if we stay quiet.
We are familiar with today’s Old Testament reading. We remember it in connection with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, when he rode on a donkey and people waved palm branches and shouted ‘Hosanna!’ We refer to that entrance as Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But today, this Old Testament prophesy from Zechariah is paired with Jesus’ teaching denouncing the mighty and powerful cities where He had done most of His mighty works, and they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!… And you, Capernaum” (Matthew 11:21, 23).
These mighty cities where the mighty go to assert themselves and rise to the top, only saw Jesus’ mighty works as a challenge to their position. They did not humble themselves to repent, but planted themselves all the more resolute to assert their own dominance. “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (Matthew 11:23-24).
And revealing the other blessed side of the coin, Jesus said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will… Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:25-26, 28-30).
The mighty strive and struggle to maintain their dominance in the world, and so they also strive and struggle for a dominance over Christ, God Himself. They do not rest in the forgiveness offered by Jesus, but they struggle against it, claiming that their actions are justified, understandable under the current conditions, no different from what anyone else would do, that they are for the greater good and when it all comes out everyone will see that it was worth it. Like the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida, they refuse to repent, to humble themselves and seek forgiveness and peace. Like the city of Capernaum, they try to exalt themselves to heaven by offering self-justifications and so they end up in hell not being justified by God.
Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem was not a dominant “I told you so” moment to snub the chief priests and Pharisees. That is what they took it for. But the prophecy from Zechariah reveals that it was something entirely different. “behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). This coming of the king on a donkey was in contrast to the chariots of Ephraim, and the war horses from Jerusalem. There was no army with battle bows accompanying Jesus. The people were waving palm branches, and the children were singing. This was not an assertion of dominance, but a revelation that salvation was coming through humility.
Jesus did not come to declare war, but to speak peace. As we heard in the readings in previous weeks, He knew that His coming would bring the sword, but it would not come from Him. While the world would look to their chariots and war horses and battle bows, they would find that their foe came riding on a donkey, speaking peace, accompanied not by “the wise and understanding” but by “children” to whom all of this is revealed.
Our words try to teach children that if they want something they should ask in humility and they will receive it. It is a lesson that children can learn as they see that they are cared for in the love of their parents. Nevertheless, sinful nature is evident early on when we see children resort to other tactics to get what they want. The sinful behaviour is reinforced by the way in which they see their parents act, the way they experience life this wicked world, and the struggle continues both before man and God; a weary life of battling, scraping, biting, and clawing in order to make sure that what you think ought to happen will happen. Even prayer is employed as a means to see that “my will be done.”
St. Paul acknowledged this inward spiritual struggle in himself and declared, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). St. Paul also humbly acknowledged that his deliverance would not come through the power of his own struggling for holiness, or through self-justifications. He just as emphatically declared, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:25). In the struggle, Paul found his rest in Jesus. He found his deliverance from sin there. He found that he could lay down the heavy burden of trying to make everything come out right, by humbly confessing that it could only come by the work of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Jesus knew what needed to happen and He knew that it would not be accomplished through a show of His almighty power and force. It would happen through His own humiliation. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he” (Zech 9:9). He is righteous. He is in the right. He is bringing salvation. He will save you.
But He comes “humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (9:9). This is how your king comes to save you. This is how He comes to face the chariots of Ephraim and the war horses of Jerusalem. This is how He comes to face the wicked world with all of its violent words and actions, clambering for dominance and to rise to the top. This is how He comes to face you and your sin. You will argue every reason why it should not condemn you to hell. You will fight against God’s Law and declare that it doesn’t apply in your particular case. You will use strong language and defiant action and appeal to your great works of charity and goodness.
And to face all of this Jesus came riding on a donkey, not appealing to the rhetoric of the wise and understanding, but hearing the voices of the children singing, “Hosanna, save us, we pray.” And instead of stretching the strings of the bow fitted with deadly arrows, He stretched out His arms upon the cross. As the chief priests, soldiers, passersby, and even one of those crucified beside Him ranted and railed, He spoke peace, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
This is how your king came in righteousness to save you: humble and mounted on a donkey. This is how He continues to come to save you: through humble means of water, bread, and wine, through the words of forgiveness spoken by a mere man. And this is how your king rules “from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zechariah 9:10). His kingdom is spread through all nations around the globe and it is a kingdom that continues to suffer in humility, and yet He continues to reign victorious. He continues to reign for you.
“As for you, because of the blood of My covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit” (9:11). Because of His blood shed for your sins on the cross and given to you here in the Holy Eucharist of our Communion, there will be a bodily resurrection from the waterless pit of death and the grave. Your prisoners will be set free. Death will not be able to hold them. So “Return to your stronghold in hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double” (9:12). Return in repentance to Jesus, our stronghold and mighty fortress. Come back out of the battle fray as you hear the voice of Jesus calling. “Come to Me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
There is hope, and such hope that you can lay down your burden and stop fighting to get ahead. Lay down the heavy burden of your sins. Humbly acknowledge that it does not all depend upon you, and that you cannot justify yourself before God. Lay it down at Jesus’ feet and find your rest in Him. In Him you are forgiven. By His blood you have His victory. He is not coming after you on a war horse with battle bow drawn. He is coming gentle and lowly in heart. And you will find rest for your souls.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.