Lectionary Passages for July 6, 2014. Zech. 9:9-12, Ps 145:8-14, Rom. 7:15-25, Matt 11:16-19, 25-30
I wish I were a cartoonist, because this Zechariah passage is great material! There is something hilarious about a triumphant king riding, not even on a full-size donkey but a colt, and putting himself between the charging warhorses and Jerusalem.
I find it extra funny because this year I've had a chance to see a real donkey every week at the farm where I go horseback riding. The donkey is willful and doesn't take direction well at all. He's strange looking, with his long ears and shaggy coat, and he sounds utterly ridiculous-the loudest rusty hinge impression you can imagine! (Wikipedia says you can hear the donkey's bray for 3 km!)
I think a good modern parallel might be to put a political leader on a scooter or moped in front of enemy tanks and say that this will stop a war and this leader will have dominion from sea to sea! Laughable to logical sensibilities!
One message here is that our hope should not be in our mighty human machines or in forceful and enforced leadership. God is the one who protects, not any human or human-made power.
Verse 12 is puzzling. The people are referred to as "prisoners of hope". Isn't hope a good thing? Why is it a jail here? Margaret Odell, professor of religion at ST. Olaf's College in Northfield, Minnesota, suggests one interpretation could be that the hope holding these people captive is hope in the wrong thing. They are hoping in their old military tradition, waiting for a Messiah of war and bloody victory to liberate them. Instead, Zechariah gives them hope in a humble king, someone who will be victorious in a new way because, obviously, the scooter can't stop the tank with force!
Odell writes; "How to release these prisoners of hope from old expectations? In effect, the scribes employ the older traditions to open new paths to peace. As in Zephaniah 3:14 and Zechariah 2:10, the audience is commanded to rejoice because of what God has done for Zion and its inhabitants. But where the older texts speak of enemies, Zechariah speaks of conditions that make for peace. The king is not the agent of deliverance, but one who has himself been humbled yet declared righteous and therefore delivered or saved."
I'm also caught, this week, by Paul's words in Romans. "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" 7:15
Here is the classic stand-off between logic and desire. We know what is best, intellectually we want what is good, yet when the second helping of dessert is offered, we load our plates with the artery blocking, health compromising momentary pleasures. Any of us who want to lose a few pounds knows the problem. But this problem isn't, unfortunately, limited to waistlines. It hits deep and hard at the important things in life like our relationships, our care for the environment, our goals and hopes for the future.
How many relationships are slowly destroyed because we can't quite bring ourselves to the honesty and hard work of communication required to keep them healthy? How many spectacularly blow up due to giving in to the temptation to be unfaithful? How many individuals and families struggle because of addictions (substances, gambling, porn, work, etc...) that steal time and money and personal connections from people? The answer to the how many of us struggle is simple. It is 100% We all struggle with our desires, some to more destructive effect than others, but we all struggle. Paul says the answer to struggle lies in God, not in relying on ourselves. That is helpful, but not simple, and here Paul doesn't talk about the importance of helping each other. I wish that in the faith community we could all find places to share our struggles with each other. The church is not a place for perfect people, it is a place for the imperfect, the struggling, those who are searching for a hope that is different from the unworkable "answers" of the past. It is not a place to allow harmful behaviors to continue-but it is a place for us to strive together toward something better. It's not an easy thing to struggle together, but it is certainly preferable to the "old" way of pretending that the church is a "communion of saints" (where transgressors are excommunicated). And it is also preferable to an attitude of "anything goes."
We need God. We need each other. We need new kinds of hope-even when they might seem comical!