In the summer of 1969, Cast C of the international singing group Up With People performed for King Beaudoin and Queen Fabiola of Belgium in their jungle garden behind their palace. The cast members were delighted to have the opportunity to meet their highnesses after the performance and chat with them. They were awe-struck by the opulence of the jungle garden, but also marvelled at the humble manner of the king and queen.
Faithful Catholics, this royal pair in a sense embodied within their reign some of the qualities of the readings today that invite us to live in the kingdom of our God through humility and non-violence.
First of all, the prophet Zechariah invites us to rejoice. The reason for rejoicing seems ambivalent. Nevertheless, we can say that the first reason to rejoice is because we have a king who is triumphant and victorious and whose dominion will be great, from sea to sea.
However, the reason for rejoicing, according to the standards of the world, seem to end there. Our king has no jungle garden; no palace, seemingly not even any power. He is so humble that he will come not on a donkey, but on the foal of a donkey. He will be non violent, yet will have an unusual kind of power, as he will put an end to violence and war. As the prophet Zechariah puts it, he will cut off chariot, war-horse and battle-bow, and instead, will command peace.
Turning to the Gospel, we see Jesus beginning to fulfil that prophecy of Zechariah. Jesus thanks God for revealing the mysteries of the kingdom to little children, not the wise and intelligent, for this was the Father’s will. He goes on to say that only the Son knows the Father and can reveal the Father.
A key element of the mystery of the kingdom that Jesus came to bring hinges on the reality that in Jesus, God is totally and absolutely non-violent. That is a mystery that fundamentalists of all stripes cannot and have not grasped. For all too many in this world, violence and suicide bombing is done in the name of religion. On a smaller scale, divisions, power struggles and attempts to control others often sneak into the very organizations and institutions that profess to be Christian, spiritual and religious, be they parish councils, committees, or other groups in the life of the church. How hard it is to truly grasp the full extent of this reign of Jesus as a non-violent, gentle, meek, humble Lord and Saviour.
Still, Jesus invites us to take up his yoke that is easy and light, and affirms once again that he, our king and master, is gentle and humble of heart. As we respond to this invitation to enter the kingdom of Jesus through humility and non-violence, we are to be like a child helping her grandfather carry a pail of water. The grandfather allows only enough weight of the handle in the child’s hand that she can carry, allowing the child to have the impression she is really helping her grandfather carry that heavy pail.
Our response to this invitation to enter into the kingdom of God, the reign of God inaugurated in this world by Jesus, is to allow ourselves to be more and more moulded into him. As St. Paul puts it in the second reading, we have the Spirit of God within us and therefore belong to God. That same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead will give life to our mortal bodies through that same Spirit.
It is that same Spirit, if we are humble and faithful enough, that will help us heal and let go of control, of perfectionism, of imposing our negative attitudes and ways onto others. It is that same Spirit that will usher us into the reign of God, right here and right now, in this life and not just in the next life, through humility and non-violence.
John was a young missionary who with another priest wanted to try to co-pastor one of the communities they were given to care for. Although quite a challenge at first, they worked out the ramifications of that arrangement and seemed to be doing quite well.
One evening after a pastoral care meeting at the local hospital with other pastoral workers, John noticed that his fellow priest was agitated and restless. Having just taken a marriage encounter, John suggested they write out their feelings and dialogue. When he received the other priest’s piece of paper, he read these words: “At the meeting today, I felt that no matter what I said, they would do what you want anyway.”
John was shocked, as he began to realize, even without knowing it, he was communicating the impression that he was in charge. It was his first glimpse of his tendency to control situations and others. Saddened at first by this realization, he began to feel grateful for this sudden self-awareness that would allow him to pray over this deeply rooted tendency that was causing him to inflict pain on others, to deal with it and to let it go.
One who caught and lives this mystery is Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche community for the mentally challenged, who teaches that if we are humble, open and honest enough to share our weakness with others, that frees them to be the same with us, and together we grow. That is kingdom wisdom.
The eucharist we celebrate now is a foretaste of the reign of God in which humble gifts of bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus, our king, who is both triumphant and victorious, but also gentle and humble of heart.
May our participation in this meal enkindle in us the desire to become more and more like Jesus our king, and spread the Good News of this gentle kingdom of non-violence to the rest of the world so in need of this message.
Sylvain Lavoie, OMI, Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Keewatin-The Pas, is chaplain at the Star of the North Retreat House in St. Albert, Alta. He continues to live out his motto, Regnum Dei Intra Vos (the kingdom of God is among you), which is his overriding focus and passion.