Changing YokesRead Now
NEXT SUNDAY’S GOSPEL: MATTHEW 11: 25-30
FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
USCCB link to all three readings
At that time Jesus exclaimed:
"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 little ones.
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."
I have some fear and trepidation about attending Mass this weekend, as this is our first Sunday of “relocation.” Our church building is now closed for remodeling (?) and our public services will be held in a social hall on-site. Extra Masses have been added to the schedule. I have been through this before, about thirty years ago, when I built a church from the bottom up. There is no nice way around the disruption, and I guess it is every parish’s destiny to go through a Babylonian Captivity once or twice in its history. But, the Word must be preached, and so we proceed.
Next Sunday’s Gospel is an “oasis passage” in the sense that it stands in a peculiar place between Jesus’ condemnation of the cities that had rejected his message (specifically, Chorazin and Bethsaida in 11: 20-24) and multiple challenges to Jesus’ authority (12: 1-45). R.T. France (see home page) refers to Sunday’s text as the “Revelation to the Little Ones.”
It is fairly obvious even at first reading that there are two original texts joined together here. The first is a commentary/prayer of Jesus to his Father; the second is an invitation to the minority, those few in the Matthean narrative who have taken Jesus’ teachings to heart. What holds this text together is the mystery of the Kingdom of God: the proud and the self-righteous will never understand it; only the “little ones,” the humble of this earth—like the simple supplicant in the Temple who confesses his sinfulness in contrast to the haughty Pharisee—will resonate with the mystery of the divine plan. And only they, in turn, will find peace of heart, genuine rest, release from burdens.
France makes the point that the original audience for this expression of Jesus, the prime “little ones,” are the disciples themselves, which is also true of the Sermon on the Mount and the subsequent teachings earlier in Matthew’s Gospel. It is helpful to remember that this Gospel in its entirely represents the “New Law” from Jesus, the New Moses, and the disciples are the fathers of the restored Twelve Tribes of Israel in the new Kingdom. This is a Gospel of attitudes and mindsets as well as behaviors, harkening back to the many Psalms that extol the original Biblical Law, such as Psalm 19:7, “The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.”
There is another aspect of Sunday’s text that might not be so obvious: Matthew’s inclusion of the late Old Testament concept of the Wisdom of God. The Hebrew Wisdom books—such as Sirach, Proverbs, and Wisdom—speak of God’s Wisdom as a separate entity yet inseparable from God, perhaps a forerunner of our Trinitarian thinking of God in the Christian era. Sunday’s reading addresses the “things hidden from the wise and the learned” but “revealed to little ones.” Put another way, to think with God is a true union with God; Jesus elaborates that all things have been handed over to him by his Father, and thus union with Jesus—particularly his teaching—is a unique communion with God that is impossible to attain in any other way. Jesus, in the new order of things, is the Wisdom of God, separate but the same.
And what of the rewards of the new kingdom, the possession of the wisdom of God? Those who are labored and burdened will find rest. Relief from burden and the tranquility of rest is a consistent theme of the Hebrew Scripture. Labor is described as a curse for the sin of Adam; the Psalms will celebrate the good shepherd who gives rest to his sheep. France writes that the text here has multiple levels of meaning. The “burden” may be understood generically as the difficulties of life. However, in 23:4 Matthew addressed the scribes and Pharisees for placing “heavy cumbersome burdens on people’s shoulders,” which Jesus contrasts here to his own easy yoke and light burden.
France describes Jesus’ new yoke as “learning,” specifically that which God requires. The term “yoke” in the Bible generally implies servitude to the one who applies it, i.e., the farmer. Not to beat the metaphor to the ground, but those who embrace the teaching of Jesus are changing yoke masters—from one who is cruel and overbearing to one whose yoke is gentle and transforming. The yoke is real—a commitment of faith and the determination to imbibe the Wisdom of God—but this is a profitable and enriching service, unlike the excesses and harsh impositions of some forms of religious leadership that eventually lead to either cynicism or despair, then and now. The mystery here is how the yoke of God’s Wisdom proves to be the ultimate freedom.
Enjoy the Fourth today!
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