Stay Close to Christ

Zec 9:9-10 • Rom 8:9,11-13 • Mt 11:25-30

Today we return to what we call Ordinary Time on our Liturgical Calendar. In total, there are 34 weeks of Ordinary Time. The rest of the Liturgical Year consists of our special seasons such as Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, and a few Solemnities of the Lord that fall on Sundays. (Don’t try to add them all up to make 52 weeks, because each year we have to skip a few weeks of Ordinary Time in order to fit in our seasons and feasts.) The last Sunday we celebrated in Ordinary Time was the Eighth Sunday. Today, after having to omit a few weeks in Ordinary Time, we pick up with the Fourteenth Sunday.

“Ordinary” is a word that does not capture the importance of what we celebrate, because what we celebrate each Sunday is always extraordinary. Officially called the Lord’s Day, every Sunday is always a celebration of the Resurrection. It is a day on which we celebrate Jesus Christ the Lord and call to mind the Last Supper, the Passion and the Resurrection. Each Sunday is a day on which we celebrate Christ’s continuing physical presence in our world. Each Sunday is a day on which, when we once again encounter the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist, we gain hope, joy, strength and courage to live the Christian lifestyle.

Each Sunday is not only a day on which we encounter the physical presence of Christ, it is a day on which by the mere fact of gathering together “in communion,” as a community of faith we become the Body of Christ, the Church. It is most difficult to be part of the Church if we don’t gather with the Church. To discount Sundays or to think of Sunday and gathering with our community only casually should cause us to question the depth of our desire to be with Christ.

Most of us are enjoying at least a three-day weekend because of the Fourth of July. For us as citizens, it is virtually impossible for us to avoid celebrating this wonderful holiday. We still feel compelled to celebrate the freedom we have. When Christ said, “Do this in memory of me,” He was partially desirous of creating the compulsion in us to gather each week to celebrate our spiritual freedom. Unfortunately, the compulsion for our once-a-year celebration of the Fourth of July is not often matched by a compulsion to be in the physical presence of Christ on Sundays.

Our passage from Zechariah could hardly come on a better weekend. As we read our passage today, this is the situation: the Hebrews had once been a great kingdom, but then the kingdom divided. The northern Kingdom of Israel had been destroyed by Assyria. The southern Kingdom of Judah ended up in exile in Babylon. The Hebrews were able to return to their homeland under King Cyrus of Persia who conquered Babylon, and returning to Jerusalem, the Hebrews took on the name of their homeland. Named after Judah they would come to be called “Jews.” Although freed from Babylon, the Jews were still subjected to the whims of foreign rulers. At the point of our reading today, they now faced Alexander the Great and were watching his unstoppable advance.

Zechariah sought to reassure and calm God’s people. Zechariah felt that even if Alexander were to conquer them, what would it matter as their real allegiance was to God? God is their true ruler, and God is not like Alexander. Although seemingly meek, God will banish chariot, horse and bow. The Kingdom they will eventually come to experience would be far greater than Assyria, Babylon, Persia, or Alexander the Great. Zechariah said that if the Jews kept their focus on God, no worldly power or worldly cultural influences could ever really harm them.

Zechariah’s reassurance of God’s help became a promise that enabled the Jews to live through this part of their history and, even worse, that yet to come. It is a vision passed on to us to help us understand who Jesus is and what He did and continues to do for us.

Matthew, writing to his own Christian community, offers assurances like those of Zechariah to his community of faith, which referred to itself as “the Little Ones.” Matthew’s advice for coping with the troubles his community had was to say, “Stay close to Christ.”

On our Sundays throughout the remainder of Ordinary Time, we will explore the extraordinary life of Jesus and what that life has to offer us. The Scriptures will call us to see that apart from Christ, we have no real kingdom that can bring us the peace we most want to have. We will see that apart from the community of faith, we cannot be part of Christ’s body.

FATHER STEINER, born and reared in Chattanooga, Tenn., is a priest of the Diocese of Nashville. He currently serves as rector of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville. Previously, he served in the diocesan high school as teacher, associate principal, and principal. He received his education from St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, the Gregorian University in Rome, and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C..