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The Incarnation and Three Metaphysical Paradoxes

On the Readings for July 5, 2020


• 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 1191 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. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. 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. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. Very Powerful and True are the workings of the Holy Spirit.The last paragraph of Mr Olson’s article of paradox’s is so very needed in todays world.A very much needed reminder in my own life today.

  2. Beautiful sentiments that remind the reader of their need to look for answers outside of their presumptions. The last place one would think “rest” could possibly reside would be a yoke. I think the phrase immediately following…”and learn of me” is the key to understanding the intended meaning. This yoke is really the willingness to abandon my own go-to resources of self-reliance and pride. It is the committed embrace of His meekness and lowly mindset that frees our soul to rest. WE WILL NEVER BE WHO HE DESIGNED US TO BE TILL WE DO THIS.

  3. Thank you , also for introducing another good author , from the treasure chest of Ignatius press – esp. for the truth in those words about the Incarnation – His yoke being the great blessing through The Incarnation wherein our Lord desiring for us to bring our wounds unto Him, to pour in His holiness as the healing balm , to restore us to the sacredness and its joy we have been created for , esp. as at the Holy Mass .
    That ‘wokeness ‘ is what the world too is searching for desperately , in all wrong places and ways , as it has always done .. and the enemy too , ever at work , denying that truth – thus , the foundational divide from other faiths .

    The carnal flood waters of our times make that search more desperate ..and our merciful Lord sends The Mother again , as Our Lady of Rosary , to Argentina and The Lord Himself too asking ‘ be detached from death , attach to life ‘ .—and-its-a-big-deal-31979 .
    Every act of contraception and related ways being occasions of fear of life , thus deprivation of occasions to offer praise and gratitude for same
    Denial of that yoke , instead choosing to be yoked to the ‘ carnal self ‘ and the slavery of related passions thus depriving one of the life of being yoked to The Lord and His holiness .
    The praise of gratitude for His holiness , filling our heads , flowing down the connecting coronal neural areas of the brain , to command away every spikey horn of pride of the death spirit bearing corona ..

    Bl. Mother, conceived by her parents in holiness, free of carnal passions , more in the power of the words in The Spirit , thus the trust in the goodness of The Father , to gratefully accept The Incarnation , in the strength of faith .

    Rosary prayers to help us all too in same , to seek that kind of the holy ‘wokeness ‘ for all in our lives as well , in the best kind of yoke , of being
    ‘ together while apart ‘ in His Spirit ..

    Our Lady of Rosary , pray for us all .

  4. Thoughts inspired by Three Metaphysical Paradoxes. A white plastic collar is a yoke. Some are muzzled some not. If not we proclaim the incomprehensible Word made Flesh straining the limits of words. Evidence of what transcends the physical conveyed by faith affection kindled by the paradoxical image of the gentle Xristos Pantokrator seated on the foal of an ass.

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