Fourteenth Sunday In Ordinary Time
MATTHEW 11:25-30 (Zechariah 9:9-10; Romans 8:9, 11-13)
We do not know the actual sequence of events during the ministry of Jesus in Galilee. From earliest times it was known and expressed that the authors of the gospels arranged events, etc., to suit their agenda. They arranged the traditions they collected, and combined them with Old Testament passages, even with folklore and popular beliefs, to serve their goals and the instruction they wanted to convey to their respective Christian communities. Therefore to understand Matthew’s purpose for including this particular episode in the life of Jesus, we must look at the context from which it arises in Matthew’s gospel.
In Matthew’s arrangement of what we now call chapter 11, Jesus experienced two keen disappointments. John the Baptizer was arrested and imprisoned by Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee and parts of the east side of the Jordan River. While imprisoned, John heard about the wonderful deeds of Jesus. Just like Jesus had disciples, so John also had disciples. He sent two of them to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” It seems that the man who had so boldly proclaimed Jesus to the crowds at the Jordan was now having doubts. If John expected the kind of popular military hero-messiah some expected, Jesus’ deeds and words did not measure up. Jesus’ re-sponse listed his deeds and ended with these words directed at John, “Blessed is he who is not scandalized by me.”
The second disappointment: Jesus had proclaimed the kingdom of heaven and accomplished his great deeds in many cities of Galilee, yet they did not accept him as God’s ambassador. Even worse, they referred to him as a glutton and a drunk because he mixed with the public, (“a friend of tax collectors and sinners”), and shared table fellowship with them instead of severely fasting from both food and drink like John did. Because John fasted severely, (recall his diet, locusts and wild honey), the word on the street was that John had a demon. Jesus met these critics with a cool proverb, “We piped to you, but you would not dance. We wailed, but you did not mourn.” Meaning: no matter what the approach to their mission, the public found fault with both Jesus and John.
Jesus’ first response to the second disappointment is a very human response, more like most people’s response to keen disappointment. He reproaches the cities of Galilee that rejected him. He insults them by comparing them with wicked cities of the Old Testament. This shows the full humanity of Jesus, but Matthew does not want these reproaches to be the example of how a Christian responds to disappointment. After he portrays Jesus venting like a normal human being, Matthew adds today’s gospel reading. It contains some of the most attractive sayings attributed to Jesus, words of divine comfort.
First Jesus thanks his Father that the revelation he brings from the Father was hidden from the learned but revealed to “the little ones.” In the Gospel of Matthew, “the little ones” are the people without clout – the poor, the meek, the bereaved, the merciful, the pure of heart. To summarize the meaning of “the little ones” we may turn to Micah 6;8,
“What does the Lord require of you? To do justice. To love kindness. To walk humbly with your God.” Such are those whom Matthew’s gospel recognizes in the Beatitudes and in this saying here attributed to Jesus, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavily 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 your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Between Jesus’ prayer of thanksgiving to his Father and his invitation to the humble Matthew inserts a theological statement which serves as a proclamation of Jesus’ equality with the Father: “All things have been delivered to me by my Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Thus Matthew comments in the middle of his gospel on his first proclamation of the divinity of Jesus. In 1:23, Matthew gave a new meaning to a quote from Isaiah 7:14, “and his name shall be called Emmanuel, God with us.” Seven centuries before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah promises that a son born to King Ahaz would be a sign that God was still with his people in Jerusalem. Matthew’s spin on this ancient oracle is that the birth of Jesus means not only that God was with his people but that Jesus is God, Emmanuel, with his people.
Matthew’s final proclamation of Jesus’ divinity is found in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18, when he attributed to Jesus these words, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” This authority was his from all eternity as the eternally generated Son of God. That same authority was now shared with the human nature of the Son of God who is also Son of man, Jesus of Nazareth. Therefore, “all things have been delivered 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 wishes to reveal him.” This infinite knowing between Father and Son from all eternity generates the love which is the procession of the Holy Spirit from both Father and Son. This is the knowledge/love which Jesus offers to the humble of heart.