Gospel for the Fourteenth Sunday after Easter (9 July 2017)
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, NRSV)
Luke has a similar account of Jesus’ cry of gratitude in 10:21-22. Though Luke has it in the context of the return of the seventy two who “came back rejoicing” in 10:17-20, reporting the lament over the lake-towns earlier in 10:13-16.
Matthew’s context is the lament over those lake-towns – “Alas for you Chorazin! Alas for you Bethsaida! Etc.” in 11:20-24. “Alongside and beyond the active choice and personal responsibility of those who have spurned the message (vv. 20–25) stand the decision of God about the people to whom what is really going on will be revealed and from whom it will be concealed, and the choice of the Son of those to whom he will reveal the Father.” (John Nolland, “Preface” In The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary on the Greek text, W.B. Eerdmans, 2005, 469.)
“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.
One of the crucial characteristics of an emotionally healthy person is proportionate and appropriate reactions to what is happening. Aristotle summed it up when speaking of anger: “The person who is angry at the right things and with the right people, and, further, as he/she ought, when he/she ought, and as long as he/she ought, is praised”. (Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Book IV, 1125b 26-32, W D Ross, Oxford University Press, 1925.) The spiritual guide, John Cassian (360-435) teaches similarly: “We are commanded to get angry in a healthy way” (Institutes: Eighth Book – The Spirit of Anger, IX).
But John Cassian also reminds us that anger can be a “disease”. As such it can generate sadness (see Institutes: Ninth Book – The Spirit of Sadness, IV). John goes on to say that this kind of sadness – a “disease” like inappropriate anger – can best be cured in the company of other human beings – especially those who irritate us and demand patience of us!
The wisdom of both Aristotle and John Cassian transcends historical eras, cultural contexts and geographical places. It goes to the root of what it means to be human.
Life, in fact, asks us to be sad sometimes. In those moments, not to be sad means there is something wrong. But it seems reasonable to ask: Is there more sadness in us today than life is actually asking? For example, does our obsession with “extreme events” and having a “fun time” actually mask sadness? Is our inability to be still and silent and alone, our need to be constantly on the move and doing something, also indicative of sadness? Is the prevalence of obesity and pornography a symptom of unaddressed sadness? Might some instances of depression be more properly named “sadness”?
The great spiritual guide, Evagrius of Pontus (Ponticus) (345-399) – from whom John Cassian learned much – writes of this kind of sadness that is not asked of us by life but engendered by our own maladaptive behaviours: “(This kind of) sadness is a dejection of the soul and is constituted from thoughts of anger, for irascibility is a longing for revenge and the frustration of revenge produces sadness”. (See Eight Thoughts, 1.)
In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus say: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and .... you will find rest for your souls.” As John Cassian indicates, the healing of these emotional “diseases” is found in and through relationships. Faith is a relationship with God in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Are you sad? If so, why? Is your faith a source of life-giving “rest for your soul”? Do you know Evangelii gaudium (“The joy of the Gospel”)?
Sadness – even bad sadness – is a signal. Pay attention! Listen! Face what is going on! Submit to the truth of it!