Romans 8:1-11& Saint Matthew 12,14-21.
July 3, 2016 at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church in Norman, Oklahoma
Matthew frequently quotes Old Testament texts that his first readers would find familiar. This one from Isaiah 42 is the longest of all his quotations. The great Persian king, Cyrus is the subject of Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 45 Isaiah presents Cyrus as a gentle conqueror as the King marched across the east in conquest. This makes him quite unlike conquerors then and now who lay waste to everything in their path as a show of power and control. Cyrus seems to have known that destruction and oppression would eventually mean the costly rebuilding of the conquered territory and the problem of controlling angry resentful conquered peoples. Isaiah describes this kind of gentleness in a word we might call, “meekness.” Matthew sees in Isaiah’s description of Cyrus the figure of Jesus who is here laying out his plan and his idea about what a Messiah who comes from God must be like. There will be no crushing with power, no violence, but only sacrificial service. There would be no throne, simply a cross.
Among many interesting details in these verses, two ideas emerge for our reflection and then our response this week.
The first is this matter of justice brought by the Messiah. Perhaps then, but certainly now, justice has been turned into revenge which is exactly what Jesus comes to confront in his efforts to change the common expectation of what a Messiah will be like. The ancient Greek world that so shaped the times of Jesus defined Justice as giving to God and to men what is their due. For a people formed by faith in Jesus and living in response to his word, the only thing that is due to God is obedience and respect, gratitude, glory, and praise. The only thing due for us is mercy. The truth of this demands that we be very careful about what we expect in terms of justice. For when we get really honest about how we stand before God, revenge and punishment would be the last thing we would want as justice which is exactly what Jesus reveals in the way he treats sinners. We will not be worthy of his name and hardly able to carry his message and carry on his work if we think that revenge and punishment are appropriate.
The second matter to consider with this Gospel today is something Matthew has already taken up in Chapter Five, something Jesus has already spoken of as a revelation of what God is, of what he is, and of what we must be if we are ever to be counted among the blessed. It is Meekness. There is plenty of meekness in Cyrus, the Persian conqueror; but there is no weakness. In the Beatitudes the word Matthew uses for meekness is the same word used to describe the taming of a wild animal. It means great strength under control. As Isaiah proposes in his prophecy describing a Messiah, there will no barking or yelling, no pressure or threats used on opponents. Jesus refuses to harangue the crowds to whip up support for a political revolution. He is humble, gentle, and meek. There will be the nobility of respect, and the persuasion of love rather than oppression or force. As Isaiah puts it, the bruised reed will not be broken nor a smoldering wick snuffed out. This is a challenge just like the one we face with justice. As the people at the time Jesus spoke these words were challenged to change their ideas and expectations about the Messiah and how he would save, conquer, and find victory so do we. Too many still believe that power and force are what is needed instead of kindness and mercy. Too many still believe that loud and rude accusations, condemnations and insults are the way to get ahead. It is so today from Boardrooms to Classrooms, from School bullies to Politicians engaged in political discourse.
This Gospel says a lot in seven verses about how God will redeem, about how the Messiah will ultimately find victory, and how those of us who carry on his mission will respond to opposition and ultimately win victory for the Kingdom of God.