A reflection on Matthew 11:25-30 for Sunday, March 12, 2023 at Mosaic Baptist Church, Gungahlin.
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 (NRSVA)
The prayer and invitation of Jesus above comes hot on the heels of Jesus’ public rebuke of the Jewish cities in which his power was displayed most dramatically.
Chorazin and Bethsaida are singled out.
Clearly these were privileged places. Matthew’s Jesus, however, seems deeply dissatisfied with their response. There, sadly, the presence of the Messiah has inspired debate, possibly both public and personal, rather than the curious faith of amazement. They have not embraced the invitation offered by Jesus’ overt display of the miracles.
They have seen and resisted.
This response seems to represent the ‘wise and intelligent’ of Jesus’ public prayer of thanks to the ‘Father’. For them even what they have seen remains ‘hidden’. According to this prayer it is the ‘gracious will’ of God that has allowed this blindness to remain.
I am not convinced this reflects a chosen few and a rejected many on God’s part. Perhaps it points, rather, to the love and grace of one who patiently waits for open and receptive hearts.
Of course, there has also been a revealing. The ‘infants’ – a term perhaps reflective of Jesus’ instruction to receive the Kingdom of Heaven as a child – reminds us of the powerless and poor who by now have learned to truly see ‘these things’.
Like Jesus’ parables, his miracles both hide and reveal.
Immediately following all this, Jesus insists, in a convoluted way (at least to modern readers) that ‘All things’ have been given to him by the Father and that he will share these with anyone he chooses.
It establishes that the authority to reveal the kingdom resides in Jesus’ hands.
And then, Jesus issues an invitation to all. To be sure, the God-addressing prayer has ended. ‘Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens…’ is addressed to any within earshot. Here the moment is retold that each reader of Matthew’s Gospel might also hear.
A broad, universal invitation.
At its core this is an invitation to rest. Legalistic religion all too often is an exercise in bearing ‘heavy burdens’. Jesus, however, insists that the yoke he offers leads to soul-rest.
The picture, or parable, Jesus offers is instructional. A young bullock was often linked by a yoke to an older animal with the express purpose of slowing the younger animal down. A day’s work could not be completed at a sprint. To furrow an entire field took a patient plod rather than a rushed run.
And so it is with the human soul – and the invitation to be paced by Jesus.
The story is often recounted of missionaries serving in Africa a century ago who hired local villagers as porters to carry supplies. They travelled at a significantly slower pace than expected. After the first two days, the missionaries pushed them to go faster. On day three the group went twice as far as they did on day two. The missionaries congratulated themselves for their leadership abilities. On day four, however, the workers would not budge. “What’s wrong?” asked the missionary. “We cannot go any further today,” replied the porters. “Why not? Everyone appears well.” “Yes,” said the men, “but we went so quickly yesterday that we must wait here for our souls to catch up with us.”
I have a suspicion that sometimes Jesus goes more quickly than we do in our fear-paralysed faithlessness. Most of the time, however, faithlessness leads us into a frantic work-driven rush. Many of us would do well to learn to wait for our souls to catch up.
Somehow, I am left wondering if the invitation to be yoked to Jesus will manifest in a life of prayer. How else could we learn the pace Jesus sets?
Below is the famous translation of Jesus’ invitation above by Eugene Peterson. As a way of making this invitation our own, I offer it here as a final reflection:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
May you, in humble prayer, be one who learns and knows the ‘unforced rhythms of grace’.
What is your experience of the pace of religion? Do you find yourself going at a soul-pace? Do you find yourself rushing? Do you need to hear Jesus’ call to move more today?
What does this image say to you about the closeness of Jesus? What makes you most aware of this reality?