Let the Scriptures Speak
Banishing the Bow
The warrior's bow shall be banished,
and he shall proclaim peace to the nations (First Reading)
If there is any part of the Gospel that sounds like a call to withdraw from involvement with the world around us, it is today's selection from Matthew. With its talk of coming as children to the meek and gentle one who will ease our burdens and refresh our spirits, it appeals to our desire to draw back from the fray and allow ourselves to be healed. Indeed, there are times in life when we need to hear those words in just that way. But when we step back and read the rest of the Gospel of Matthew, looking for ways that spell out the implications of following the meek and gentle master, we hear a disturbing challenge. The first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:1ff) calls healed disciples to live a life of forgiveness, of disciplining the impulses of anger and lust, of absolute honesty, of love of enemies, and of responding to violence with creative nonviolence. This helps us see what Jesus means by his burden and his yoke.
The reading from Zechariah recalls and helps us understand a symbolic action Jesus used when he wanted to correct people's misunderstanding of his messiahship. It seems that the main image of Messiah in the minds of Jesus' contemporaries was modeled after King David. The Anointed One of the Age to Come would be a warrior like David of old. Such a “son of David” would enable them to overthrow the Roman power that was oppressing them. According to the Synoptic writers, Jesus prepared carefully a symbolic action meant to counter such expectations regarding his role. He arranged to have a donkey ready on which to enter Jerusalem. As Matthew takes pains to explain, this gesture was meant to recall Zechariah 9:9, the prophecy about a nonviolent king who would banish the instruments of war from Jerusalem.
Nonviolence is an aspect of Jesus' teaching and action that we have too easily neglected over the centuries. At this time of year, when we commemorate our Declaration of Independence and the military activity that implemented that independence, it is a good time to acknowledge that the Lord calls us now to use our freedom to serve the world in ways that honor a consistent ethic of life, and to strive to find alternatives to abortion, the death penalty, and the use of military force to resolve political problems.
Dennis Hamm, SJ
Fr. Hamm is emeritus professor of the New Testament at Creighton University in Omaha. He has published articles in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, The Journal Of Biblical Literature, Biblica, The Journal for the Study of the New Testament, America, Church; and a number of encyclopedia entries, as well as the book, The Beatitudes in Context (Glazier, 1989), and three other books.
**From Saint Louis University