July 18, 2019 - Come, Rest - A Reflection on Matthew 11:28-30
There is no burden we carry that is greater than the burden of sin. The shame and guilt weighs us down, sapping all the joy out of us. Only Jesus can take away this dirty feeling by forgiving us our sins, as only he can. But then, when we go to him for forgiveness, he gives us even more. He gives us much needed rest for our souls.
Life is full of heartache and sorrow, loneliness and pain. We try to get solace from people, but very often this ends up in only more hurting. And then there is the matter of our insecurities and fears, troubles and worries. I have started working a lot with youth these days, and the number one problem seems to be this inherent sense of worthlessness. But it isn’t only young people who struggle with this. The older among us do, too. What hope is there? None, except through Jesus.
Many years ago — in 1970, I think - the singing duo Simon and Garfunkel composed a song called Bridge Over Troubled Water. The phrase was in a church hymn that Paul heard and it inspired him to write this beautiful song that describes Jesus so wonderfully. It starts like this: When you're weary, feeling small; when tears are in your eyes, I'll dry them all; I'm on your side. When times get rough and friends just can't be found, like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down. This is all so true with Jesus.
But there is one more reason, and this really needs mentioning because it is the essential context of this passage. The Jew were encumbered with laws, hundreds and hundreds of them, that they had to follow. There were rules and regulations for everything, and as you can imagine, these were very burdensome. They believed that they had to follow all these rules to enter heaven. Jesus told them to put their burdens down; his was the easier way.
It is no different for us. I remember being presented with lists of Do’s and Don’ts when I was growing as a child and told that I had to do certain things and not do certain things to get to heaven. And not only did I feel the pressure of these things, there was always the fear that I would blow it, and go to hell. Jesus tells us to take it easy, and just be in him as a branch remained on the vine, and he would take us through. Or, if you prefer today’s analogy, be yoked to him as one ox might be yoked to another.
So, rest. Jesus is waiting for you.
July 17, 2019 - Like a Child - A Reflection on Matthew 11:25-27.
One day his disciples asked Jesus why he spoke to the people in parables. Many of us imagine that he did this to explain kingdom realities in a way that they would understand, but to the contrary, Jesus seemed to want to HIDE these realities from them. He told the apostles, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it” (Matthew 13:11,17).
Why? Because knowledge puffs us up. It makes us believe we have the answers to questions, when in truth all we are left with are more questions. Consider the universe. Scientists have “proven” that the universe is expanding, with all planets and stars moving away from each other. Consequently, they reason that if time were reversed, the universe would contract to a point where all of it was contained in one single unit that exploded in a Big Bang. It’s a fascinating theory, but they don’t know what caused that Big Bang.
I have a pretty good idea what caused it. “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). Boom! Most of the things we are taught is simply not possible without God factored into the equation. Now I don’t want to go into all of that now, but just want to illustrate that if we are to go to God for answers, we have to approach him like a child who wants to learn, not as somebody who knows everything.
When I prepare these reflections, I go to Jesus as a child would, wanting to understand things that I know are truly beyond my understanding. How CAN I possibly understand the things of God? It is like an ant trying to understand the mind of man. But God wants to reveal his secrets to those who really seek to know them. So, when one approaches him with humility, he explains things as an adult would explain things to somebody really small, breaking them down into little pieces that are easy to digest.
I suspect it is one of the reasons little children enjoy my retreats as much as the older folks do, because I break it down even further. Everybody can understand what I teach. Our faith is really very simple; its just been made so complicated by those who don’t really understand it. Go to Jesus like a child, seeking to know his truths, and see how easy he makes it all.
Be like a child.
1) Opening prayer
God our Father,
Your light of truth
guides us to the way of Christ.
May all who follow Him
reject what is contrary to the Gospel.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 11:28-30
Jesus said: "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 Gospel today is composed of only three verses (Mt 11:28-30) which form part of a brief literary unit, one of the most beautiful ones, in which Jesus thanks the Father for having revealed the wisdom of the Kingdom to the little children and because He has hidden it from the doctors and the wise (Mt 11:25-30). In the brief commentary which follows we will include the entire literary unit.
• Matthew 11:25-26: Only the little children accept and understand the Good News of the Kingdom. Jesus recites a prayer: “I thank You Father, Lord of Heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to little children.” The wise, the doctors of that time, have created a system of laws which they imposed on the people in the name of God (Mt 23:3-4). They thought that God demanded this observance from the people. But the law of love, which Jesus has revealed to us, said the contrary. What is important in order to be saved is not what we do for God, but what God, in His great love, does for us! God wants mercy and not sacrifice (Mt 9:13). The simple and poor people understood Jesus’ way of speaking and rejoiced. The wise said that Jesus was in error. They could not come to understand His teaching. “Yes, I praise you! He praised the Father that the little children understand the message of the Kingdom despite it being hidden from the wise and the learned! If they want to understand it they have to become the pupils of the little children! This way of thinking and of teaching makes people feel uncomfortable.
• Matthew 11:27: The origin of the new Law: the Son knows the Father. What the Father has to tell us He has given to Jesus, and Jesus reveals it to the little children, so that they may be open to His message. Jesus, the Son, knows the Father. He knows what the Father wanted to communicate to us, when many centuries ago He gave His Law to Moses. Today, Jesus is teaching many things to the poor and to the little children and, through them, to all His Church.
• Matthew 11:28-30: The invitation of Jesus which is still valid today. Jesus invites all those who are tired to go to Him, and He promises them rest. In our communities today, we should be the continuation of this invitation which Jesus addresses to people who were tired and oppressed by the weight of the observance asked by the laws of purity. He says, “Learn from Me for I am meek and humble of heart.” Many times, this saying has been manipulated, to ask people for submission, meekness and passivity. Jesus wants to say the opposite. He asks people not to listen to “the wise and learned,” the professors of religion of that time, and to begin to learn from Him, from Jesus, a man who came from Galilee, without higher instruction, who says He is “meek and humble of heart.” Jesus does not do as the scribes, who exalt themselves because of their science, but He places Himself at the side of the people who are exploited and humiliated. Jesus, the new Master, knows by experience what takes place in the heart of the people who suffer. He has lived this well and has known it during the thirty years of His life in Nazareth.
• How Jesus puts into practice what He taught in the Discourse on the Mission. Jesus has a passion: to announce the Good News of the Kingdom. He had a passion for the Father and for the people of His country who are poor and abandoned. There, where Jesus found people who listened to Him, Jesus announced the Good News, in any place: In the synagoguesduring the celebration of the Word (Mt 4:23), in the houses of friends (Mt 13:36); walking along the way with the disciples (Mt 12:1-8); along the shore of the sea, sitting in the boat (Mt 13:3); on the Mount from where He proclaims the Beatitudes (Mt 5:1); in the squares and in the cities, where people would bring the sick to Him (Mt 14:34-36). Also in the Temple of Jerusalem, during the pilgrimage (Mt 26:55)! In Jesus everything is revelation of everything which He bore inside Himself! He not only announced the Good News of the Kingdom; He Himself was and continues to be a living sign of the Kingdom. In Him we see clearly what happens when a human being allows God to reign in his life. Today’s Gospel reveals the tenderness with which Jesus welcomes the little children. He wanted them to find rest and peace. And because of this choice of His for the little children and the excluded, He was criticized and persecuted. He suffered very much! The same thing happens today. When a community tries to open itself to be a place of welcome and consolation for the little children and the excluded of today who are the foreigners and the migrants, many people do not agree and criticize.
4) Personal questions
• Have you ever experienced the rest promised by Jesus?
• How can the words of Jesus help our community to be a place of rest for our life?
• How can one be meek and humble while at the same time striving for promotion or advancement at work or in the community?
• To follow Jesus requires radical change. How can this be an easy yoke or a light burden?
5) Concluding Prayer
In You is the source of life,
by Your light we see the light.
Continue Your faithful love to those who acknowledge You,
and Your saving justice to the honest of heart. (Ps 36:9-10)