Zechariah 9:9–10; Romans 8:9, 11–13; Matthew 11:25–30
My oldest granddaughter, Kennady, has always had a sense for or awareness of the mystical. When she was around 4, Gina was reading to her for the first time from a book of saints for girls. She listened with rapt attention to the stories of St. Clare and St. Thérèse, but when Gina came to St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, Kennady said something rather odd. St. Frances was an Italian-American religious who came to the US and started hospitals, schools, and orphanages and spent her life in service to the sick and poor. Our granddaughter took one look at St. Frances and said, “Oh, she’s my nurse!”
To this day, we have no idea where that recognition came from, or how she came to connect St. Frances to nursing.
Children, though, seem to have a knack for faith in the Divine. When I was a child, I accepted my parents’ faith wholly and completely, and I loved the stories of Christ, the saints, and the people of the Old Testament. It wasn’t until I grew to the wise old age of 13 that I began to question it and, eventually at 17, to leave the faith. It’s not uncommon for adolescents to begin to assert their own will and put their mind to use, and they become too wise too soon. Children have an openness to faith that adolescents and adults often do not.
I like to think that these little ones are who Jesus speaks about in the Gospel reading today. He says, “although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to little ones.” In Matthew 18:4, he says, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
But notice that Jesus isn’t speaking to children. He speaks to his disciples. He calls them his “little ones” and encourages them to seek with a childlike faith. Jesus is comparing those who humble themselves and who trust in Him and His teaching to children, in contrast to those who trust in the wisdom of the world—the proud, the haughty, the jaded.
Now Jesus isn’t asking His disciples to do something He’s not willing to do. As the reading closes, Jesus says, ” Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” Just the opposite of proud and haughty—meek and humble.
That word “meek” gives us a link back to our first reading from the Book of Zechariah: “a just savior is he, meek and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass.”
This passage might remind you of the gospel readings from Palm Sunday, in which all three of the synoptic gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—have Jesus instructing two disciples to go to Bethphage and to retrieve a colt and bring it back to him, which He then rides triumphantly into Jerusalem. Clearly, you can see the parallel that the gospel writers set up here with this passage from Zechariah: “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.” Matthew even quotes this same passage, and admittedly goes a bit overboard with the parallel, having Jesus enter into Jerusalem on the back of both the donkey and its foal. The three evangelists were all clamoring to make the same point. This is the one! The anointed! The messiah!
But the Jews of the time were expecting someone more obvious, someone with power and stature. They expected a mighty king, a military savior—maybe coming on a war horse—or at very least a mighty… war donkey*. But that’s not who Zechariah says is coming here. Not a mighty warrior, but a just savior, meek and riding on a colt. You can see, then, how a highly educated scribe, a scholar of the law, a Pharisee, a priest, or a member of the Sanhedrin, might look at this man entering Jerusalem on the back of a colt and have some doubts. How will this man riding on a donkey save us?
Jesus counsels his disciples to look with different eyes, with a different heart, with simplicity and humility. And He comes to us in simplicity and humility—as an infant in a manger, on the back of a donkey, in the simple offering of bread and wine—and He transforms us into something greater. But we can’t be transformed if we are already too full of ourselves and our own accomplishment. How can we recognize our need for transformation if we come in pride? How can we hear simple wisdom if we are too full of the wisdom of the world? Usually, it’s those moments in which the wisdom of the world fails us so badly that we recognize our need for a savior.
I like to share a prayer that was written by Thomas Merton. It’s often called the Seeker’s prayer. It goes like this:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
That’s what Jesus means when He says we need to seek Him with humble and childlike faith. He comes humble and meek to offer Himself to us and to lead us to the Father. When we humble ourselves and come to Jesus meekly and say, “I do not know the way,” Jesus answers back, “Yoke yourself to me, and I’ll show you.”