Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us recall the picture painted of the King-to-come in our first reading from the prophecy of Zechariah:
Rejoice heartily O daughter Zion, shout for joy O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just saviour is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass. He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; the warrior’s bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
The coming King there foreshadowed by the prophet is a figure but dimly espied, yet marked out unmistakeably by his humility and the just salvation he brings which -- coming as it does from God – banishes, in the name of God, the weapons of war from His holy land, while proclaiming and offering peace to the nations.
With such a background in mind we can easily recognize Jesus and well understand the Good News He proclaimed in our Gospel passage today:
Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden light. (cf. New Vulgate)
We again find Jesus calling out publicly ‘Come to Me’ at one of Israel’s greatest feasts when crowds of pilgrims and visitors were everywhere to be found:
On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed, "Let anyone who thirsts come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as scripture says: 'Rivers of living water will flow from within him.' (John 7:37-38)
Whereupon St. John goes on to explain:
He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified. (v.39)
Thus we have a more focussed understanding of the coming King Who – Jesus explains – comes not directly to banish war from the Holy City and Israel’s Land but to invite His people to – Come to Me, Come to Me -- and, through faith in Him, learn to find peace for their souls by the Gift of His Spirit.
We have yet other words of Jesus reported by St. Matthew (25:31-41) where He speaks of the ultimate denouement of His Kingdom:
"When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”...… Then He will also say to those on the left hand, “Depart from Me you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Now, the Kingdom thus foretold, and to be ultimately fulfilled when Jesus comes in glory, was set in motion from the very first preaching of the Good News as St. Luke (10:1-2.9) tells us:
The Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Then He said to them, “Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”
And so, twenty-first century People of God, know yourselves, your situation, and your calling: you have heard the Word of God, the Good News of Jesus, proclaimed to you not just by the ‘seventy others’ but by the Universal Church established by Jesus on the rock of Peter; and having responded to that word, you have been made -- through baptism and the Gift of the Holy Spirit -- a member of the Body of Christ and a prospective citizen in the Kingdom of God after the final distinction between sheep and goats has been made; and as such, the Holy Spirit is both encouraging and enabling you to claim your place at the right hand of God by fighting against the enemies of that Kingdom. First of all by fighting against sin in your own life; and then, according to the measure given you by the Spirit, against sin active in the world around us, that you may finally become fittingly counted among those chosen and blessed ones at God’s right hand.
Let us now turn back to St. Paul to learn what our Christian struggle against sin, involves:
Consequently, brothers, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh, for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
‘Life lived according to the flesh’, what does that mean? Let us first consider it as meant in St. Paul’s letter; that is, living in flaccid accordance with our natural impulses and desires -- especially our bodily inclinations and drives. Such living -- St. Paul warns us -- will lead us to death, eternal death; not because such inclinations are always and inevitably totally wrong but because they all too easily become uncontrollable desires and drives blinding and enslaving us: taking no account of the needs and well-being of others, disregarding the integrity and fullness of our own natural being, and contemning the supreme worth and sublime dignity of our divinely-bestowed calling as children of God. The restraining of our native selfishness, the guiding of such irresponsible impulses, together with the curbing of blind lusts of all sorts, is what St. Paul means when he speaks of ‘putting to death the deeds of the body by the spirit’, for only through the Spirit communing with our spirit, recalling and enabling us to appreciate the teaching of Jesus, can we find strength to walk perseveringly in accordance with the light of life.
However, that is but one aspect of Jesus’ teaching, for He would see an even greater betrayal of that Christian inheritance with which He has endowed us as being a life lived with no aspirations other than worldly ones; a life spent, enjoyed, without reference to God at all … possibly an eminently respectable-in-the-sight-of-men life, yet lived for nothing other than worldly, human, motives, and seeking nothing more than worldly fulfilment and self-satisfaction; a life ending too frequently these days in a culprit-or-victim’s suicide, causing much understandable puzzlement, regret and sorrow, but also, at times, evoking unprincipled and unchristian sympathy from family and friends, onlookers and observers:
These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (John 15:11; 10:10-11)
Life in abundance and the fullness of joy, such is Jesus’ programme for each of us. Of that programme, life in abundance is the easy part, so to speak: it is Jesus’ sheer gift to us! But ‘our joy’, our ‘joy in fullness’ … is not generally easy; it is something to be 'sorted out' individually, to be worked on throughout our life, by the Spirit of Jesus communing with our individual spirit, a most intimate communing characteristic of truly Christian prayer. In such prayer each of us has to open ourselves up and accustom, attune, ourselves to the Spirit of Jesus, peacefully, trustfully, and wholeheartedly; ever watching for, waiting on, and listening to, the Spirit’s gentle breath warming our heart and stirring our mind, before seeking to move our will in His direction.
Now that, dear People of God¸ is the most deeply fulfilling and transcendently joyful of human experiences, wherein the Spirit gradually adapts and attunes the frailty and blindness of our human capacities to His own infinite wisdom, beauty, and goodness; guiding our individual progress ever more surely towards the plenitude of our ultimate sharing in the eternal life and joy promised by Jesus before the presence of His Father:
No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and any one to whom the Son wishes to reveal Him.