The readings for today are among the most comforting and hopeful of our Sunday readings. They speak hope of peace in time of war( Zechariah 9: 9-10). They speak of a God of compassion who lifts up the falling (Psalm 145).They speak life while experiencing inner death( Romans 8:9,11-13). And they speak of Christ sharing the secrets of God’s ways with the simple,humble and young among us. They speak of rest for the weary and the overburdened laborer, and of Christ’s assistance in following God’s laws. They speak of rest for our very souls.(Matthew: 11:25-30). Each reading was for a very different audience in time and place, yet each speaks to us today.
The disciples of the prophet Zechariah living in a time of war and oppression under Greek domination in the 3rd or fourth Century BC (9:9) speaks of a time when peace will be proclaimed to the nations, when the Messianic Prince of Peace will come, not as an arrogant political ruler but as a just liberator, meek and riding on a donkey. The writers of the Gospels used this prophecy to describe Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. How we still long for peace in our troubled world especially in the Near and Middle East as the very places where Jesus walked and taught are besieged by war that seems unending. And yet, the hope is clear. Perhaps we haven’t learned yet that war begets war, violence begets violence,terrorism begets more terrorism, and swords are best when beaten into plowshares. We haven’t learned how to follow the Prince of Peace when it means anti nuclear activism and courageous actions for peace like those of Sr.Megan Rice and the Plowshares Now three. We haven’t learned to be brave enough not to fight. The peace to be proclaimed is up to us.
War is a horrific way to live the way of death, but we can also live it within our daily lives and within ourselves. There are so many ways to choose death over life, every single day. Last Sunday was a day of rejoicing in our church for two reasons, one was that the congregation prayed for me and laid hands on me as I faced an exploratory procedure with a possibility of another cancer according to my symptoms. I felt their strong faith and love and their healing touch and surrounded by their prayers and so many other prayers,my worries fell away and I felt I would be okay. ( On Tuesday I learned that the culprit was not a tumor but a big jagged kidney stone doing its damage,and it was removed. I was never so happy to learn about a kidney stone in all of my days! I felt that my mortal body was brought again to life (Romans 8:11 and that the Spirit interceded for me when I didn’t even know how to pray(Romans 8:26)). Pearl Cudjoe, our wonderful sister hugged me after church and said to me”Pastor Judy, You will be fine this time”, and indeed I was. Oh, the faith of this people.
The other reason for joy last Sunday was that one of our teenagers joined a gang almost two years ago and his beautiful potential was eclipsed by guns, drugs and violence tragically affecting not only himself but his whole family. The family and our church walked a fine line of loving him and pulling him back without accepting his life threatening choices. I cannot enumerate the number of Sundays when we prayed for him. I cannot tell you how many tears his Grandmother, the family matriarch, shed. But last Sunday the door opened and he walked into our midst. He sat in the front row and when we prayed I held him in my arms and heard his prayers. We sang together “Here I am, Lord, Is it I Lord, I have heard you calling in the night. I will go Lord, if you lead me…” Our Elder who knew well the road the boy had chosen spoke lovingly and strongly to him. His family members shed tears of joy and smiled through the tears. As a congregation we rejoiced with him-as he was filled with life once again. In our older teen class we asked him “what made you return?”. He said, “I needed peace with God”. “Have you found it?” “”I have”. He knew deeply “The One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you….(and) will also bring (you) to life (Romans 8: 11)”. We know this is an ongoing process, but it has begun.
“Come unto me,all you who are weary and burdened ,and I will give you rest” (Matt 11: 28.) Oh, the weariness of those who loved this young man and worked to hold on to him lest he slip away forever. We have had several killings by gunshot to mourn already this year. This time the rest Jesus promised came in the form of a young man starting to turn his life around in our very midst. You could literally hear us breathe out and let the anxiety for his life rest in Jesus’ arms. Our people have many burdens. They work very hard and make barely minimum wage. Many perform exhausting physical labor. They are physically tired and hardly dare to hope that things will get better. They carry a range of illnesses and constant pain. They struggle with just getting by in a land of plenty where other people seem to have everything and they do not know if they can pay both the rent and the electric bill. And yet, they trust and know the rest that Jesus promises here. They know the rest for their souls that comes in relationship with a compassionate and loving God who lifts up the falling and doesn’t add extra burdens to discipleship. They seek to follow Jesus and know the yoke is light because it is Jesus the Christ who works alongside them, carrying the burden, on the other side of the yoke. They, like the rural peasants Jesus spoke with on the mountain and the plain, in the hills and in the streets of the city, are the chosen ones who know that the ‘true religion’ Jesus represents is the law of love, in relationship with the God who is Love and the love of a faith community. At the end of the Mass, Pearl spoke up and asked that we make our last hymn “I’ve got the Joy, Joy,Joy ,Joy down in my heart” because of God’s promises and the return of our young man. And so we did!
Thanks be to God. Amen. Pastor Judy Lee, ARCWP CO_Pastor The Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community Fort Myers, Florida