The Jewish Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament, is divided into three parts; in order of importance they are the Law, the Prophets and the Writings; the Prophets covers the major writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, followed by the 12 Minor Prophets; the last of these is Malachi which is headed, ‘an Oracle,” and before that is Zechariah from which today’s first reading is taken; chapters and 9, 11, 12 and14 are each also called ‘Oracle.’ Our reading is taken from the first of these oracles. The first verses before it are about the ill-fate of the nations surrounding Judah, but our reading contrasts that with the announcement of a great king, who is righteous and saves – often translated simply as being triumphant and victorious. Yet as well as being great he does not ride the horse of a warrior but a simpler, and maybe humbler, donkey. The last oracles in the collection of the Prophets were added by a later editor, we cannot be sure of their date nor consequently of the circumstances to which they refer. The general message is one of ‘God will save His people;’ and Christians would see this as a reference to Jesus who was selfless and humble and He certainly makes salvation available to us. The other readings might elaborate on the practical ‘workings’ of this process for individuals.
The second reading is from Paul’s letter to the Romans, which is largely an exposition of how he perceives the whole relationship between people and God. The section we have today follows one about the human and particularly Jewish situation: we are inevitably going to die someday; we are going to suffer from both the wickedness of those around us and our own stupidity and sinfulness; for the Jews there is also the difficulty of trying to keep all the rules of their Law and of their religion; and we might add nowadays that the world in which we live brings disasters that are both natural and brought about by our own misuse of nature. A satisfactory solution to this comes from God. Hence in our extract Paul identifies the problem in our lives with the word ‘flesh’ – we live according to the flesh; and the solution is to live instead in the spirit – the Spirit of God in us. These two sides (literally of flesh and spirit) are difficult to translate and as we try to see what it means it is worth looking at the variety of attempts at translation though many are still too literal. This reading is noteworthy for its emphasis on the Spirit, Who is often played down in favour of the Creator, father-figure and the sacrifice for our sins of His Son; some theologians think this has come about because those in authority in the Church, as anywhere, like things to be orderly and under control rather than inspired by enthusiasm or a spirit of freedom.
The gospel comes from a tradition also used by Luke and its language about the Father and Son and their relationship to us is almost in the style of some parts of John’s gospel. There is also the contrast in believers, between those who rely on their own sophistication to know something of God, and children who generally just accept what they are told and seems obvious. The second part can easily be read as saying that Jesus will bring us relaxation and an easy life; but we should note that we will have a burden and a yoke, but when it is Christ’s it is not so burdensome because He carries it too!
see Jeffs Jottings – Wise guys