Encountering Jesus the Humble and Gentle Hearted in the Poor
Readings: 1st: Zec 9, 9-10; Ps 145, 2-3.4-9; 2nd: Rom 8, 9. 11-13; Gos Mtt 11, 25-30
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
On this 14th Sunday of the Church’s Ordinary time, she calls us in a special way to reflect on Jesus’ humility, gentility and of course his great option for the poor (in Spirit), the weak and those leaving at the fringe of society. These twin virtues of humility and gentility are very necessary for our Christian journey. Although it is said that poverty is a disease or a mind bender, the truth however, is that poverty (especially of the spirit), also humbles one especially, when it is freely embraced or “chosen” as Christ did, and in imitation of whom religious men and women take the vow of poverty. Despite being the creator and owner of both the kingdom of heaven and earth Christ humbled himself and chose the fundamental option of becoming poor. Unfortunately, today we see poverty in toto as a curse, a mind bender, and view it from all sorts of pejorative angle.
I can still recall the comment attributed to one late former senator: “We are not in this honourable house to celebrate poverty.” He made this remark in order to justify why he and his “fellow honourable members of the house” must be allowed to vote millions of dollar for the furnishing of their apartments while a majority of the masses who voted them in could not afford to eat twice a day. In deed he was not there to celebrate poverty, but he must celebrate affluence and wealth at the expense of the poor and the weak masses. In order words, contrary to Jesus who became poor that humanity might become rich, our “distinguished senators and honorary” members of the house must become rich in order that those by the power of their vote and mandate they rose and rode to “superstardom” must become poor. Unfortunately, in spite of his greed, eloquence, and aversion for poverty, it was not long before this “distinguished and honourable senator” died a premature death. Today he no longer lives to mock poverty, whereas, a majority of those he cajoled indirectly still live to “mourn him.” What an irony! This is simply theodicy – the justice of the Lord God of Host!!
The first reading of this Sunday epitomizes and foretells the humility of the Christ-King who was to come. This reading is a hope raiser to all the poor (especially in spirit), and the oppressed: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout…behold your King comes to you. Triumphant and victorious is he; humble and riding on a donkey.” Of course, he comes to give succor and justice to the poor and oppressed of Israel. To give still greater encouragement to God’s people, the prophet, after uttering the foregoing promises, was carried on by the Divine Spirit, which influenced him, to announce a still more remarkable instance of God’s special kindness to them, namely, the coming of their Messiah, or King, with reference to which this passage is cited in two places of the New Testament, (Matt 21:5 and John 12:15). In the second reading, Paul reminds us of the need to live in the spirit. This is because, it is the spirit that breeds humility and gentility as opposed to the flesh (sarx), which breeds pride, and all forms of worldliness. Flesh (sarx) here as Paul employs it refers to the evil nature present in Adam, and still present even in regenerate man. The Spirit of Jesus keeps one aglow and afloat even when one is materially poor. Hence, Jesus in the beatitude (Mtt 5, 3) says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for they shall see God.” Yes, it is only the Spirit of Jesus that can help one appreciate the poor, what being poor in spirit means, and help one attain it as well. The worldly and mundane spirit which manifests only in materialism and greed cannot afford this. This is why Paul says to us: “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Jesus does not belong to Him.” The Roman Christians’ faith was spoken about throughout the world. Their real character, however, was not determined either by their professions or their reputation. The apostle therefore adds, “if the Spirit of God lives in you”! This is the only decisive test. Every other bond of union with Christ is of no avail without this. We may be members of his church, yet unless we share that vital union which comes from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are his only in name. The Spirit of God is everywhere, yet he is said to dwell wherever he especially and permanently manifests his presence. So he is said to dwell in heaven; he dwelt of old in the temple; he now dwells in the church, which is “a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Eph 2:22); and he lives in each individual believer, whose body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). According to Haldane, “Flesh is a principle that attaches to the earth, and the things of the earth; but the spirit of regeneration is as a light, which, coming from heaven, elevates the mind to those things that are celestial…This indwelling of the Spirit is a sure evidence of a renewed state; and believers should be careful not to grieve the Spirit, and should labor to enjoy a constant sense of His presence in their hearts (Haldane, R.: An Exposition on the Epistle to the Roman, Ages Classic Commentaries).
In the gospel, Jesus reveals and gives us the key to the heart of God. That is, the master key with which one could unlock the secrets that God would not make known to the proud hearted. This key is an alloy of humility and gentility. Little wonder the word of God says that: “God resist the proud hearted but gives grace to the humble” (Prov 29: 23). If we must serve God well, we must be humble and gentle of heart. Like a kid that must bend low and down in order to suck successfully from the mother’s breast, we must bend and bow low before God. Also, like the sheep that harms no one but simply goes about its business, we must live our lives in a way that leaves no pains or sorrow on others. Above all, we must see Jesus in the poor, the “weak”, the sick and all those at the fringe of society. They epitomize humility and gentility. If we do this surely, God will reveal to us more secrets about the kingdom that we know nothing about yet. If we do this, we are being “infants” before God as Jesus says: “You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to infants.” Finally, today Jesus beckons us: “Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” This invitation is not for the proud hearted, because they hardly realize that they are overburdened. Such people go about in shameless boldness like zombies thinking they are standing and strong. Yet, they are blown off by any little wind. But this invitation is extended to the simple, humble, and gentle hearted who are quick to realize their need for God’s intervention in their life. It is for those who in spite of their physical weakness shoulder the burden of their family, community, state, nation and the world at large through prayers, mortification and even persecution from the world. It is an invitation extended to those who are humbly, sincerely and earnestly seeking the face of God, those who realizing their weakness and poverty of spirit and so constantly cry out to Jesus as did the disciples of Christ: “Lord save us least we perish” (Mtt 8, 25). It is for those who are ready to submit and surrender all, and not part or some to Jesus, and those who humbly take up the yolk of Jesus.
The invitation is addressed to the common people who are ready to take what Jesus offers them. That is, the new rule of obedience which he lays on his disciples. In three ways he tells us that his Yolk is different from that which hitherto oppressed us: we shall be instructed by one who is willing to bear with us patiently; we shall gain from his instructions what we have been vainly seeking, and we shall find the new yolk easy to be borne. As the deliverance of the Jews was typical of redemption by Christ, so this invitation speaks to all of us. We might be poor and prisoners, but prisoners of hope; our case is sad, but not desperate; for there is hope in Jesus concerning us. Christ is a stronghold, a strong tower, in whom believers are safe (Prov 18, 10), from the fear of the wrath of God, the curse of the law, the assaults of spiritual enemies and all forms of oppression. To him we must turn with lively faith; to him we must flee, and trust in his name under all trials and sufferings. It is here promised that the Lord would deliver his people especially the poor in spirit and the humble and gentle of heart.
Peace be with you all!