Lesson: Zechariah 9:9-12
9 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.
10 He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
11 As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
12 Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.
The Book of Zechariah is the longest and most obscure of the “Minor” Prophets (so called because their books are much shorter than the three “Major Prophets” – Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel). The Book has 14 chapters, and Chapters 9 to 14 are referred to as “Second Zechariah” or “An Oracle” – the superscription at the beginning of Chapter 9. First Zechariah is dated to about 525 to 500 BCE and Second Zechariah is dated to about 400 to 300 BCE.
Today’s reading is one of the many (sometimes contradictory) descriptions of the anticipated Messiah found in the Hebrew Bible. The image presented here is a king who brings peace and rides on a donkey (v.9) rather than on a war-horse. The king’s dominion is not only over Israel, but is from sea to sea, from “the River” (the Euphrates in northern Syria) to the ends of the earth (v.10).
The Hebrew Bible contains many parallelisms, and the description of the king “on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (v.9) was intended to describe one animal. The Gospel of Matthew (unlike Mark and Luke) treated the phrase as describing two animals (Matt.21.5).
This peace-bringing king cuts off the instruments of war from “Ephraim” which was pre-Exilic Northern Israel, named for its most powerful tribe, and Jerusalem (v.10), the capital of Judea.
Epistle: Romans 7:15-25a
15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 19 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but 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. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Paul’s letter to the Romans was his longest, last and most complex letter. It was written in the late 50s or early 60s (CE) to a Jesus Follower community that Paul did not establish. Among other messages in the letter, Paul sought to encourage respectful and supportive relationships between the Gentile Jesus Followers and the Jewish Jesus Followers in Rome.
The Roman Emperor Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome in 49 CE. His successor, Nero (54-68 CE), allowed Jews (including Jewish Jesus Followers) to return to Rome, and this created tensions about leadership and worship within the Jesus Follower Community.
Paul was a Jew who became a Jesus Follower and who saw the Jesus Follower Movement as part of a broader Judaism. As such, he continued to have expectations about the fullness of the Coming of the Messiah/the Christ. The term “Christian” had not been invented in his lifetime.
Today’s reading is part of Paul’s extended discussion of the law, sin, the flesh, and the Spirit. As a First Century Jew, Paul was ambivalent regarding the Law. He saw the Jewish Law as “spiritual” (v.14), but as a Jesus Follower, he recognized that mere obedience to the Law would not lead to wholeness/salvation.
Without the Spirit, Paul asserted, even outward obedience to the Law could be a manifestation of “the flesh” (our human tendency towards self-centeredness and self-interest) that is grounded in sin (our personal egoism). Paul said it is through the Spirit that we can be rescued from “this body of death” (v.24).
Gospel: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Jesus said to the crowd, “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.” At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”