The Readings of today present us with the theme of hope. In the first Reading, (Zec 9:9-10), Prophet Zechariah, (one of the post exilic prophets), invited the people of Israel who were becoming despondent that their re-settlement in the land of Israel, after their Babylonian captivity was not as smooth sailing as they had expected, to be patient and be hopeful in the Lord. He said, “rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion! Shout with gladness, daughter of Jerusalem! See now your King comes to you; he is victorious, he is triumphant, humble, riding on a donkey.”
Here, Zechariah announced the coming of a humble Messiah who would “proclaim peace to the nations.” The Messiah will bring peace and harmony to people’s lives. This prophecy of a humble Messiah was fulfilled on Palm Sunday when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, (Mt 21:1-11). According to prophet Isaiah, the titles of this humble Messiah included, “Wonderful Counsellor, Divine Hero, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:5).
At times we may have similar experiences as the Israelites who had elevated expectations about their lives in Israel after their exile in Babylon, only to realise begrudgingly that nation building does not happen overnight. It comes with pains and struggles, successes, and failures. There is a cost for freedom or independence, it does not just come on a platter of gold. Young couples too, had grand expectations when they entered marriage; for a respectable number marriage has been the best thing that has happened to them in their adult lives. However, for some, it became a nightmare, a dashed hope.
Migrants and refugees leave ravages of war or persecution or economic deprivation in search of a ‘new homeland’ where they hope to experience peace, welcome and financial stability. A respectable number of migrants and refugees have found a ‘new homeland’ as the hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees that have been resettled in Australia. A sizeable number of these migrants and refugees have integrated well into the wider Australian society and have contributed immensely to the advancement of Australia fair.
Here, worthy of mentioning is Ms Julia Gillard who came with her parents as a migrant from Scotland and later became Australian prime minister, and Bishop Vincent Long, of Parramatta Diocese, who came on a boat from Vietnam as a young adult. Some migrants and refugees have found it difficult to blossom in their ‘new homeland’, and a fraction of them end up in incarceration.
Jesus in the Gospel of today, (Matt 11:25-30), invited us to come to him with everything that weighs us down. He said, “’Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.’”
With Jesus on our side we will see our burden and sorrows in a new light. There may be situations that do not have an immediate solution, but the realisation that Jesus is walking with us and crying with us will bring new hope into our lives. Jesus invited us to shoulder his yoke! Yoke is a log placed on the back of two bulls so that they can pull the plough. Animals are still used in farming in parts of Vietnam and Cambodia. Yoke is like a burden. In Israel, the Law which was meant to be liberating became a burden. Jesus had criticised the Scribes and the Pharisees for heaping heavy burdens on people’s shoulders which themselves would not put a finger to lift, (Mt 23: 2-4)).
Jesus is saying that if we consider our problem in the light of his suffering and death for us, then we may develop a perspectival outlook on our challenges.
Joys and sorrows, health and sickness are part and parcel of life, let us never give up hope. Sometimes in our life journey we may feel what Pope Benedict described as an eclipse of God, because our problems appear insurmountable to us. Jesus even cried out on the cross, “my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” However, he later added, “into your hands Lord I commit my spirit”. We too, should place our hope and trust in God’s promises and allow him to act in his own time and pace.
On this Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday, it is our hope that the salvation brought to us by our Messiah, Jesus Christ, will lead to reconciliation between the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and the rest of Australian citizenry, leading to full integration of our First Nation communities into the wider Australian society.
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp