Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:25-30).
Luke has a similar account of Jesus’ cry of gratitude in 10:21-22. In Luke it follows immediately after the announcement of woes to the unrepentant cities in Luke 10:13-16 – see also Matthew 11:20-24 – and the return of the seventy in 10:17-20.
“In the midst of a section (Matthew 11–13) largely devoted to the rejection of Jesus and his message, Matthew presents a group of sayings that highlight the revelation that Jesus brings and the kinds of people who accept it. The revelation concerns Jesus and his Father, and those who accept it are the ‘infants’ (nēpioi) rather than the professionally wise” (Daniel J Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, Liturgical Press, 2007, 168).
The second part of our text – “Come to me etc.” – is unique to Matthew. Scholars conclude that the first part of the text comes from Q, the second from the tradition that Matthew alone draws on just as Luke has his own tradition apart from Q.
I thank you Father: Scholars have noted that there is a Hebrew equivalent to this phrase of acclamation in the Qumran Thanksgiving Psalms (Hodayot). “The prayer is a public proclamation of praise and thanks for what God has done. Father, lord of heaven and earth: The address combines a title that implies Jesus’ special intimacy with God (“Father”) with the acknowledgment of this God as lord of both heaven and earth. It also prepares for the saying in which the special relationship between Father and Son is expressed” (Daniel J Harrington, op cit, 166-167).
the wise and the intelligent: Is this an ironic turn of phrase? Throughout all the Gospels there is much evidence of conflict between Jesus and the teachers of Israel. But, given the earlier reference to the lake-side towns, maybe the confrontation is broader than that. It does call to mind St Paul’s reference in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart” (1:19).
Infants: Probably a reference to his disciples – people of little or no learning and no social standing. Unlike the religious leaders.
no one knows the Son except the Father: This is more than metaphor. “‘Father’ and ‘Son’ are used absolutely here: ‘the Father’ and ‘the Son’ (see Matt 24:35; 28:19). It is not simply a parable about mutual knowledge between a father and a son (though such an analogy is at the root of the saying). The absolute use of Father and Son and the theme of mutual knowledge between them have affinities with the Johannine tradition, though there is no need to posit a direct literary relation between the two traditions here.” (Daniel J Harrington, op cit, 167.)
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens: The contrast between the learned/wise on the one hand with those who are unlearned/unwise – like the disciples but here including others listening – is maintained. Later Matthew is to speak of the scribes and the Pharisees who “bind heavy burdens” for people – see 23:4. Jesus offers a different way. A similar message – both Hebrew Scriptures and Christian Scriptures – is found in the metaphor of the shepherds, where the good shepherd is contrasted with the bad shepherd. See for example Matthew 9:35–10:6 and 15:24.
What sort of God?
In today’s Gospel – Matthew 11:25-30 – we encounter Jesus in a moment of reverie. We eavesdrop. It helps us to understand this moment of reverie if we take note of the texts immediately prior to it. John the Baptist’s disciples ask questions of Jesus – “‘Are you the one who is to come …?’”. Their questions prompt Jesus to reflect on John’s role, at the same time, implicitly, reflecting on his own role – see 11:1-15. We can assume he is wondering what this means. Jesus then focuses on his contemporaries – nothing to compliment there or affirm him in his internal struggles – 11:16-19. Then he laments over the lake-towns: “‘Alas for you, Chorazin! Alas for you, Bethsaida!” – see 11:2-24. Not much good feedback there either. This sounds like a deeply challenging time in his life.
Not surprisingly, there is a touch of melancholy in the reverie: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” There is pathos here too – this is the man whose name is “Emmanuel … God is with us” – see Matthew 1:23. He is the enfleshing of the “I AM” of Sinai. Is he really?
What sort of God is being revealed in Jesus of Nazareth?
We need to ask a prior question: What sort of a human being is this? The rawness of the moment, the powerlessness, the aloneness and loneliness, the commitment against the odds, the awful vulnerability as he struggles for what is true and real. St Paul has a striking description if this man: “He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:7. See also 2 Corinthians 8:9).
When we proclaim the Creed together, we begin with the words: “I believe in God”. What do we mean? It may be comforting to assume we have reached a fixed and satisfactory perception of God. Surely God is changeless? Yes, but for each of us, living is a journey. We are not changeless. Among other changes in our lives, our perceptions of God – hopefully – change along the way.
This can be disturbing – very disturbing. Changing perceptions of God – and ourselves, our loved ones, our careers, our understanding of good and evil, right and wrong and so on – are reminders that life is a graced emergence. We cannot afford the luxury of settling into a kingdom here. Everywhere we turn, life is saying to us: “Come!” Slowly we discover that it is actually Jesus who is saying: “Come! Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Come! Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Come! For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’”.