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.” NABRE
The thing that jumps out at me when I read this passage is the glaring implication that Jesus chooses some of us, but not all of us; that some are pre-destined for Heaven and others for Hell. I don’t believe this, even though this passage strongly suggests this is true.
As is typical when I run into a biblical passage that is contrary to my personal beliefs, I took this paragraph to prayer. As I pondered these words, I started reflecting on what I learned in my Bible courses. One of the lessons was to treat each Gospel separately as a story, as a narrative. Each story is written for a particular audience. Matthew’s original audience was predominantly Jewish. Most scholars today believe that Matthew was writing to an audience who had witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Up to this point, one of the major differences between Jews and Christians was one’s personal decision as to whether Jesus was the Messiah of prophecy or not. Over time, and likely around this time, there was a break between Jew and Christian.
Jews believed that they were God’s chosen ones. So, as this break started to happen, is it possible that Christian Jews were concerned with having lost their chosen status? The wise and learned, those who did not see Jesus as the Messiah, certainly thought they did, and likely treated the Christians with distain for throwing away the true religion. Thus, it is possible that Matthew may have been trying to assure them of their on-going chosen status. He might have been saying that by giving up what they had previously learned that they ensured their on-going chosen status.
In looking at this possible explanation with the second part of the passage, I started to grasp something more. Here, Jesus instructs us to pick up his yoke. A yoke was a piece of equipment that allowed a human to direct and control a large, powerful animal that did not want to be directed and controlled. So, in putting on Jesus’ yoke, we are choosing to submit to his direction and training. In effect, we are taught to be little. We are taught to put aside what we think we know, and allow him to fill us with his truth. In the beginning, many of us likely continue to push against the yoke and try to exercise our own free will. In fact, Jesus will allow us to remove his yoke if we want. However, those who follow his example by becoming meek, slowly start to see the benefit, the peace, and the beauty of the field he has and is plows through us.
Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering whether you are under his yoke or not; whether you are under his direction or your own; whether you are being little or “wise and learned.” Ask him to help you submit, as needed. Do not be afraid to admit resistance for it is only in accepting truth that you can allow the Holy Spirit to perfect your efforts. Thank him and praise him for helping you to be open to truth, and beg him to help you take any lessons learned into this coming week.
Ms. Debra D. Weldon, O.P., JD, MTS