The Incarnation and Three Metaphysical Paradoxes

On the Readings for July 6, 2014


• Zech 9:9-10
• Psa 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14
• Rom 8:9, 11-13
• Matt 11:25-30

The literary critic Hugh Kenner, in Paradox in Chesterton (Sheed & Ward, 1947), distinguished between different types of paradox. One type is “verbal paradox”, which is aimed at persuading someone about a certain belief. A more profound sort of paradox is “metaphysical paradox”, the immediate object of which “is praise, awakened by wonder.” This paradox “springs in general from inadequacy, from the rents in linguistic and logical clothing…”

What does this mean? It means there are truths revealed to man by God that strain at the limits of human language. These mysteries of the faith cannot be known without divine grace or understood without supernatural insight. They confound the natural mind, which sees them as foolish, strange or even outrageous. It is what St. Paul had in mind, I think, when he wrote, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1:25).

Today’s readings contain at least three of the “metaphysical paradoxes”. Each of these is ultimately rooted in the great paradox of the Incarnation—the fact that the eternal and omnipotent Son humbled himself and entered time and history as a seemingly ordinary Jew.

The first paradox points towards to this divine humility, for it is a prophecy by Zechariah of a great king and savior whose strength is meekness and whose steed is a colt. This was surely an absurd image in the ancient Near Eastern world, for the strength of a king rested in his armies and his horses. Zechariah wrote around 520 B.C., a few years after the return from the Babylonian exile, and he sought to encourage the Jews who were trying to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. In doing so, he wrote many great Christological prophecies, focused on this humble savior who would proclaim peace to the nations.

The second paradox is the well-known exhortation by Jesus, in today’s Gospel, to take up his yoke in order to find rest: “For I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Those listening to Jesus understood (in contrast to so many people today) that every man serves a master of some sort; each of us is beholden to someone or something outside of ourselves. For many Jews, the Law was the yoke that they took up as their covenantal burden. 

What is the yoke of Jesus? Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, mindful of the divine humility, says that the yoke of the Son is the Incarnation. “He who was divine yoked himself to us through his humanity, and now he is inviting us to yoke ourselves to him and his divinity,” he writes in Fire of Mercy, Heart of the World (Ignatius, 1996), “When the Son’s yoke becomes ours as well, his Incarnation becomes our divinization.” The rest offered by Christ is the rest given by the Father to the children of God; it is everlasting beatitude and joy. This rest comes only through the Son, who offers us communion with the Father. But we must choose to accept it, to take up this gift of love.

Which brings us to the third paradox, found in St. Paul’s epistle to the believers in Rome. It can be summarized this way: “In order to live, you must die.” Which, of course, is essentially what Jesus said in Matthew 10: “Whoever find his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 10:39). 

The more we grasp after natural life, earthly comforts and temporal security, the more elusive they become. The more we live in the flesh, the closer we are to spiritual death. The Holy Spirit, however, frees us by dwelling within us, giving power to overcome temptation and sin. This beautiful paradox means we are “awakened by wonder”—the wonder of divine life—and this is reason to praise God, the giver of life.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the July 3, 2011, edition ofOur Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1131 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications.