This past Tuesday, we, as Americans, celebrated our 247th Birthday.  July 4th, 1776, the Declaration of Independence that our nation’s forefathers had approved of two days earlier was officially adopted, stating they were no longer subject to the King of England.  Often our modern minds see these significant seismic moments as the beginning and end of the story, when in fact, that was just the start of what would be a complex, deadly conflict between those who supported this bold and genuinely revolutionary idea and those who saw it as a threat to British Imperialism.  To be a nation that valued, cherished, fought, and protected the rights and freedoms of individuals and set up a government that was deliberately designed to be answerable to the people rather than the other way around as it had been in basically every other example in history wasn’t accomplished on that July 4th.  The external battles between the American Patriots and Great Britain would continue for years.  Even more, the internal ones where people were far from universally united with the notion of breaking away would be more complicated, recede, and emerge for generations.  Some might argue that those battles continue to this day where people are demanding and advocating more Government oversight and intervention, undermining the core principles that our nation was founded on.  But the fact that debate can even happen is a sign of our cherished independence.  It’s part of our DNA as American citizens.

Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the 14th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME -JULY 9, 2023.  I appreciate your sharing this on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim

This independent nature makes these scripture readings more challenging than we might have thought at first glance.  The first reading from Zechariah invokes royal imagery where the prophet gives voice to God’s word to His people, promising: “Your king shall come to you; a just savior is he.” But this mighty Savior will be “meek;” “the warrior’s bow shall be banished,” he shall proclaim “peace to the nations.” The people initially receiving this message were remnants of the Kingdom of God.  The 12 tribes that had been a part of the United Kingdom of Israel had broken apart by now by all kinds of polarizing divisions and infighting.  They had been pillaged, conquered, enslaved, and subjected to foreign kingdoms.  So this idea of being saved and restored was a long-held but seemingly elusive dream.   The idea that this could be accomplished peacefully was even more foreign and unimaginable.

It is interesting, though, as novel and unique as our American experiment is in human history – that drive for independence is very human.  But unchecked, it can be perilous.  The polarizing division we as Americans often see and experience in our day and age that animates so much of our politics and debates and threatens our unity today isn’t so different from what our ancestors faced.  And at the core and root of so much of those tensions: Dismissing God.

The downfall of the Kingdom of Israel – wasn’t a single bad decision by a royal figure that left the people vulnerable and conquered.  Nor was it the various divisions that broke out among people over various issues and debates.  All of those things and countless others contributed.  But ultimately, their destruction was that same temptation that first came to Adam and Eve – to believe the devil’s lies, saying God isn’t trustworthy, and fall for his other lies and temptations, saying once we remove God, we can be truly free and independent.  That played out in various times, ages, and ways for God’s people who kept finding new ways to rupture their covenant with God.  With each dismissal of God, the people of Israel fell into further oppression from enemies, experienced greater tension with one another, and felt isolated, alone and filled with fear.

Yet as tragic as that was for them – the story didn’t end there.  God never gave up on His people, even though He was in His absolute right to do so.   Because the point of a covenant is that if either side broke it, that side recognized it meant their destruction.  It is remarkable that our Lord God, the creator of all things, lowers Himself and condescends to us by entering into a covenant in the first place.  Agreeing that if He ever failed to hold up His end of the promise to be faithful, it should result in His destruction.  That seldom even enters into our minds.  Humanity takes it for granted that it is impossible, not in His nature, for God to be anything but faithful.  Yet humanity finds ways in every day and age to prove the opposite.

Despite that, God never gave up on His people – as the prophet Zechariah proclaims how God would find a way to rescue the people who had disobeyed and betrayed Him, which would be fulfilled in Jesus Christ – the King of the Universe, who comes as Savior, who vanquishes His enemy not through warfare.  Jesus doesn’t enter majestically on chariots and horses, carrying warrior’s bows.  So He remains peaceful.  But the salvation and restoration of the kingdom would be far from that.  It would come through Jesus’ suffering and death on the Cross.

God never gives up on His people.  Despite how often we find we’ve broken God’s covenant through disobedience, through our sins, through rejection of the ten commandments, whether outright from those advocating for abortion or the death penalty ignoring “Thou Shalt not kill” or in subtle little ways where we treat Sunday, our Sabbath like any other day of the week rather than being made for the worship of God, and rest with family and loved ones.  God never gives up on His people as Jesus beckons us in today’s Gospel, lovingly to “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Some imagine Jesus strengthening us to continue our struggles – where we take a break from the rat race, from our over-working, competitive natures, striving for wealth and popularity by making a pit-stop at Mass and then being supercharged to resume those pursuits, treating receiving Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist as the supernatural equivalent to Popeye getting his spinach to strengthen Him as he bludgeons his enemies.  But that’s not it at all.

When Jesus calls us to “Come to Him,” His desire is not for a visit but forever.  He’s not asking us to accommodate Him into our busy lives but for us to have our lives shaped around following Him.  That’s why He follows that invitation with the command to “take My yoke…” He’s not offering to help us as we experience challenges as citizens of this country, to navigate the world’s brokenness but calling us to live as members of His Kingdom, recognizing we’re on pilgrimage out of this world into eternity with Him.  He’s inviting us to utilize our independence and choose to be dependent upon Him.  Recognizing that when we do that, it is then that we are truly free.