Thought for the day
The Lord understands us and knows us better than we know ourselves. O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. (Psa 139:1–3) He knows of what we are made and so we can come confidently before him with our brokenness and need of his grace. It might be good during Mass today to become aware of whatever is a burden to me now in my life and ask the Lord for his love and healing touch.
Lord, you bore the weight of our humanity to come as near to us as possible. Help us to realise you stand beside us and walk with us the journey of life.
Matt 11:25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and have revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this was your gracious will. 27 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 decides to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.”.”
The first part of this passage (11:25-27) is found also in Luke (10:21-22; there is no comparable passage in Mark). The Lucan version has slight variations as well as the typically Lucan addition of “rejoicing in the Holy Spirit”. The second part, vv. 28-30, is unique to Matthew. The language of the passage is very striking—quite different to the usual manner of expression in Matthew and indeed Luke.
Because of the resemblance to the way Jesus speaks in the Fourth Gospel it has often been referred to as a “Johannine bolt of lightning” in the Synoptic tradition. The verses shared by Matthew and Luke come from that hypothetical document on which both of them drew, the Q or “Source” document.
Kind of writing
Part of the Jesus tradition echoes the sapiential or wisdom books of the Bible. In this passage, Jesus, in a prayerful exclamation, acts as the herald of divine wisdom.
Matthew 11-12 have a special structure, laid out in three triads as follows: Mt 11:2-14: Jesus is the Christ; Mt 11:25-12:16: Jesus is the Son, the revealer, the giver of rest; Mt 12:17-50: Jesus is the anointed Servant. Our brief section has three steps: thanksgiving (vv. 25-26); revelation (v. 27) and two invitations and two promises (vv. 28-30).
Old Testament background
V. 25: Therefore mortals fear him; he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit. (Job 37:24) Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger. (Psalms 8:2)
V. 28: This is personified wisdom, inviting all who desire wisdom to come to her. “Come to me, you who desire me, and eat your fill of my fruits. (Sirach 24:19) Draw near to me, you who are uneducated, and lodge in the house of instruction. (Sirach 51:23)
V. 30: Thus says the Lord: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, “We will not walk in it.” (Jeremiah 6:16) Put your neck under her yoke, and let your souls receive instruction; it is to be found close by. See with your own eyes that I have laboured but little and found for myself much serenity. (Sirach 51:26–27)
Yoke: The metaphor of yoke is used in a very positive way: Lam. 3:27 refers to the yoke as correction administered by God. Even more striking is Jeremiah’s use of the term as a metaphor for God’s authority, probably as expressed in the covenant and the word of God (Jer. 2:20; 5:5).
Jesus’ shorthand use of the term in Matt. 11:28-30 refers to the rabbinic concepts of “the yoke of the kingdom of heaven/Torah/commandments” (cf. Sir. 6:24-30; Pss. Sol. 7:9 But we (shall be) under Thy yoke for ever, and (under) the rod of your chastening.
New Testament foreground
T(i) Connections with Matthew:
V. 25 “Thank” (or literally confess) occurs at the Jordan Matt 3:6; the binomium “heaven and earth” is typical of this Gospel (Matt 5:18; 6:10; 11:25; 16:19; 18:18; 24:30, 35; 28:18); “hidden” is typical Matthew (7-0-3-3; Matt 5:14; 11:25; 13:35, 44; 25:18, 25; Luke 13:21; 18:34; 19:42; John 8:59; 12:36; 19:38); reveal is typical of Matthew and Luke, but curiously rare in John (4-0-5-1). “Infants” comes back in one other place in Matthew, which seems relevant: Matt 21:16 and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?”
V. 28: “Come” in this form is typical of Matthew (6-3-0-2).
V. 29: “Learn” recurs in Matthew (3-1-0-2); “gentle” (= meek) is unique to Matthew (Matt 5:5; 11:29; 21:5).
(ii) Echoes in John
These are very interesting—it might be that in this passage of the historical Jesus we find some of the roots to the special vocabulary and theology of the Fourth Gospel.
V. 27: Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. John 6:46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.” John 7:29 Then they said to him, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” John 8:19 …just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. John 10:15 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. John 17:25
V. 28: John On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me. 7:37 Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away. John 6:37
V. 29: For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. John 13:15 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome… 1 John 5:3
Think about the circumstances of your call, brothers and sisters. Not many were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were born to a privileged position. But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, so that no one can boast in his presence. He is the reason you have a relationship with Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:26–31)
Verse 25 The word used for “thank” is more correctly rendered “confess” or “praise” (NAB “I give praise to you”; NJB “I bless you”). Family language is often used for Jesus’ followers “brothers and sisters”, little ones, children and, here, infants. What things? Surely “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 13:11), including the identity both of John and of Jesus. The word reveal (apokalyptō) reminds us that Jesus was an Apocalyptic Jew, like many others, including Paul.
Verse 26 The reversal of human expectations or criteria is found widely in the New Testament. Cf. 1 Cor 1:26–31 above.
Verse 27 This is the verse which most resembles the Fourth Gospel. If it goes back to the historical Jesus—and it may very well—it signals an important moment in his own developing self-awareness. The word apokalyptō is used here literally, unveiling or revelation. Cf. Moses knowledge of God in Num 12:8; Ex 33:12-23; Sir 45:1-5. Cf. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18–20)
Verse 28 This verse has had enormous appeal in the spiritual tradition, understandably. The word “rest” is synonymous with salvation (cf. Heb. 3:11; 4:1, 3, 5, 10–11; Rev. 14:13). Contrast: They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others. (Matthew 23:4)
Verse 29 Jesus echoes rabbinic tradition here, with the added nuance that his teaching is less “scrupulous” but existentially more challenging.
Verse 30 Easy/light because he had made it so for us. In Jewish tradition, the “yoke” of the Law was always considered a grace. cf. So that one may first accept upon himself the yoke of the kingdom of heaven and afterwards may accept the yoke of the commandments. (Mishnah, Ber 2:2)Verse 41 This verse is unique to Matthew. It may also reflect an early church order in Matthew’s community: apostles, prophets, righteous persons and the little ones. The vocabulary reflects the interests of Matthew: prophet, righteous, little ones, receive, reward.
Verse 42 The teaching here is taken from Mark 9:41. Matthew’s editing of Mark is again illuminating.
Even though there is an emerging hierarchy, the little ones—the ordinary church members—are not to be neglected. All the “levels” share the same context of mission, including witness, persecution, flight and, when needed, fraternal hospitality.
Pointers for prayer
1. Human beings are always setting up barriers which divide people into those who are important and those who are not. It happens in every community and Jesus met it among the Jewish people of his time. God wants to break down these barriers so that those who are on the wrong side of them can experience that they too are his children and have a unique contribution to make to their community. Perhaps you can recall someone whom you did not think of highly but who turned out to be very good in some sphere. What good news that you were wrong!
2. Great intelligence is not sufficient to develop a relationship with God, unless combined with an open childlike capacity to wonder. Does this resonate with your experience?
3. The ministry of Jesus was to introduce people to a relationship of intimacy with God. How has Jesus given you that kind of relationship?
4. Another aspect of the ministry of Jesus was to free people from the burden of a legalistic understanding of religion, and to introduce them to a faith marked by freedom and love. Perhaps you have made that journey also. Who has been a Jesus person for you and helped you to find freedom, joy and rest in your faith?
Father, Lord of heaven and earth, by whose gracious will the mysteries of the kingdom are revealed to the childlike, make us learn from your Son humility of heart, that in shouldering his yoke we may find refreshment and rest.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.