Year A: Fourteenth Sunday Ordinary Time
Matthew 11: 25-30
At that time Jesus said in reply, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
“The way to rest, is to yoke yourself to Jesus. This means to undertake Jesus’ disciplines and learn form him. The rest will be granted through serious discipleship.” – John Shea
- Do you believe that God reveals God’s self to some and not to others? Explain.
- What is your understanding of “the rest” that Jesus is offering us?
- What opens, or gets in the way of your ability to rest in God?
- What aspect of life weighs you down, makes you lose heart or feel burdened?
- In what ways have you experienced “the yoke” of Jesus as an easing or sharing of your burdens?
Sr. Mary McGone CSJ
As Matthew set up his Gospel, the selection we hear today is part of a general presentation of resistance to Jesus’ teaching. Immediately before our opening line, Jesus had reviled the cities that had seen his works but rejected his message. Then with his next breath he said, “I give praise to you, Father … you have revealed [these things] to little ones.” It seems as if his prayer of praise gives us a glimpse of Jesus’ own attitude adjustment, his discernment of how God’s ways were as surprising as rejection was distressing.
However, much Jesus would have wanted the authorities to accept him, that wasn’t happening. Instead, simple folk flocked to him. Jesus clearly believed that if he was preaching God’s word, God’s will must have been hidden in those responses. Jesus’ prayer, spoken out loud in the presence of his disciples, revealed how he saw God working – in, in spite of, or far beyond his own hopes and plans.
Thinking of Jesus’ prayer as revelatory of his relationship with God sheds light on his next statement. Scholars refer to Jesus’ declaration about the complete mutual sharing of power and knowledge between Jesus and the Father as a Johannine thunderbolt in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Nowhere else in the synoptic Gospels does Jesus make any claims like these. But, this may say something very different from John’s presentation of Jesus, something much more in tune with the lower Christology of the first three evangelists.
Jesus introduces his description of his intimacy with God saying, “Such has been your gracious will.” As he says that, he seems to be simultaneously discovering and accepting the will of God. Following that line of thought, when Jesus talks about knowing and being known by the Father, he’s not referring to a settled body of knowledge or something like a divine facial recognition program. He’s talking about the knowing that happens in relationship, the kind of knowing that is growing and ongoing.
Seen in this light, Jesus’ prayer in today’s Gospel presents an early and less painful illustration of the kind of discernment Jesus went through at Gethsemane when he asked to avoid the cup but accepted God’s will (Matthew 26:39, 42, 44). This prayer reveals Jesus as the obedient teacher. His search for God’s will as well as his acceptance of it surely taught the disciples more than any sermon he preached. Or, better said, Jesus allowed his disciples to see how his own process of prayer put flesh on every sermon he preached.
Taking into account the idea that Jesus was discovering the will of God and accepting it with joy, we can interpret the last verses of today’s Gospel in a new light as well. Jesus says: “Take my yoke … learn from me.” What is the yoke Jesus has just shown us? It is the yoke of learning from the Father, the yoke of unmet expectations countered by the discovery of grace in unexpected places.
Jesus says “I am meek and humble of heart.” In the Gospels, the word “meek” appears only here and in Matthew’s beatitudes. According to Daniel Harrington in The Gospel of Matthew, the meek are the anawim of the Hebrew Scriptures, that is the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized, those who had no one on whom to rely other than their God. What the idea of being humble of heart adds to meekness is the element of choice. To be poor is an involuntary condition and everyone is poor in the face of God. Because the heart is the source of volition, being humble of heart indicates a choice to recognize and accept one’s innate poverty.
When Jesus invited his audience to take his yoke and learn from him, he was inviting them to learn from his prayer, from his discernment and from his rejoicing in God’s surprising will. What he implied without saying so explicitly was that to learn from him meant to learn how to discover, accept and do God’s will. Those who can give themselves to God, who can take on Jesus’ yoke and imitate his humility of heart need no longer worry about carrying out their own agenda or being a success or failure. They can rest in the assurance that God’s gracious will is being accomplished even when, or perhaps especially when, they do not see the results. That is, indeed, an easy yoke for which we need do no more than simply thank God.
I came home after a five-day road trip, giving twelve talks in three cities. As I took the elevator up to my apartment, I envisioned drink, food, television, and sleep. When the door closed behind me, I heard myself sigh. I put down my bags, took off my coat, and said aloud, “I’ll sit for a moment before I make dinner.” When you live alone, you learn to talk to yourself. It is the best conversation you can get.
I woke two hours later, stumbled into the bedroom, and sprawled on the bed. Eight hours later I took off the clothes I had slept in, showered, made some coffee, sat in a chair, and looked out the window. I had slept, but I still needed-more rest. I knew that if I sat there, which I did, I would revive sometime later in the afternoon.
We all know this scenario of exhaustion. We can work for only so long, even if we push ourselves and fight off sleep. Eventually the body needs rest, and it will have its way. We “fall” asleep. Sleeping is not so much a conscious act as coming to the end of waking consciousness. We have no choice but to be obedient to the body, to the physical rhythms of exertion and rest.
But there is also a weariness that afflicts the mind. This weariness— a labor and a burden—becomes too much for it. Although physical sleep may help the tired mind, its fatigue is not solely caused by the limited energies of the body. Some ways of thinking cut the mind off from its natural source in the soul, depriving it of spiritual energy. Ideas capture the mind, and they whip it night and day, making it work against its better instincts.
Many years ago a young woman came to see me. I had known her as a teenager. She was intelligent and vivacious and had been admitted to one of the top colleges in the country. When she walked in the door, I was shocked. She was unkempt and seemingly exhausted. She had dark semicircles under her eyes. I asked her immediately if she was sleeping enough. She avoided the question and began a long, rambling, and confusing story. I set her up with a psychologist who had her tested. With her permission he told me the results of the testing.
After he had shared the diagnosis, I asked him, “What about the obvious fatigue, the rings under her eyes?” After he had shared the diagnosis, I asked him.
He said, “Oh, as a theologian you should know the answer to that. I didn’t say anything. He continued, “God doesn’t sleep. ‘I don’t get it,” I said. ‘She has to control everything. She can’t trust enough to sleep. If she rests, everything might come tumbling down. Her body is exhausted because her mind is ever vigilant.
Responsible people know their decisions count. They carefully weigh what they do. In fact, controlling the future through planning is a large part of adult waking life. “Trusting things will come out all right” is an abdication of our duty to make things come out all right. This firm emphasis on human freedom and decision making may be true, but from a spiritual point of view it is a half-truth. Life, at the deepest level, is not only a conscious project but an unsolicited gift. If all we are aware of is the demand, it may take us over and turn us into control freaks. As the body flourishes in the rhythms of exertion and rest, so the mind also flourishes when it oscillates between exertion and rest.
Jesus suggests that the mind rests by disengaging from its wise and learned status and by embracing its child status. Its child status is to recognize its relationship to higher realities of which it is a part and on which it can rely. The mind can rest in the soul and the soul (the son or daughter) can rest in God (the Parent). Jesus knows how this happens, and he invites all those who feel labored and burdened with an excessive sense of responsibility and control to put on his easier yoke and pick up his lighter burden.
Spiritual rest is trusting in the life that has been given, realizing that ‘All that matters is to be at one with the living God / to be a creature in the house of the God of Life.” To be a creature is not only to bump into limits and be subjected to death. It also means receiving life at every instant from the Creator and, therefore, to have the “experience of being” as well as the “experience” of doing.
Spiritual Commentaries and Teachings are excerpted from The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers by John Shea © 2004 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.