Dear brothers and sisters,
Happy July Fourth ! As we celebrate the birthday of our country, we pray for the peace that comes from God, a peace from God that can alone bring healing and reconciliation during these divisive and troubling times. We pray especially for all civic leaders and for those who influence our culture in any way. There are two kinds of leaders in the world: those who use other people to get what they want and those who sacrifice themselves to bring prosperity to others. Jesus is the second kind of leader. Today’s First Reading expresses this beautifully; it is a prophecy describing the Messiah. God’s promised Savior, Israel’s great king, who will come and rescue Israel from idolatry and foreign oppression. The description presents a vivid, poetic comparison between the leadership style of this promised Messiah and that of the pagan kings who have conquered and ruled Israel for so long. The Messiah enters Jerusalem on a donkey, an animal considered noble in ancient Palestine, but an animal ridden by judges and rabbis, by those who brought order and justice to society. This Messiah, the prophet goes on to describe, will banish chariots and horses - instruments of war used by the pagan conquerors and symbolizing oppression, injustice, and violence. Jesus himself, in today’s Gospel passage, explains his leadership style in the same way. He invited the crowds to come to him, to follow and obey him, so that he can “give them rest.” He will never force us to labor and carry heavy burdens just for his own gratification, as selfish, power-hungry leaders do. Instead, Jesus invites us to walk by his side, uniting our crosses to his cross, as if we and he were harnessed to the same yoke. Yes, we will have to work and suffer in this life, but when we do so united to Christ, it all has a purpose; it is all leading us somewhere. Thus, instead of oppressing, depressing, and frustrating our souls, bearing crosses with Christ brings us deep satisfaction and peace of mind even in the midst of life’s trials (adapted from www.epriest.com).