Sunday, July 9, 2017
The Good News of the Reign of God revealed to little ones
The Gospel reflects and explains what is happening today
Matthew 11, 25-30
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key to guide the reading:
When Jesus realised that the little ones understood the good news of the Reign, he was very happy. Spontaneously he turned to the Father with a prayer of thanksgiving and extended a generous invitation to all those suffering and oppressed by the burden of life. The text reveals Jesus’ kindness in welcoming little ones and his goodness in offering himself to the poor as the source of rest and peace.
b) A division of the text to help with the reading:
Mt 11,25-26: Prayer of thanks to the Father
Mt 11,27: Jesus presents himself as the way which leads to the Father
Mt 11,28-30: An invitation to all who suffer and are oppressed
c) The text:
25-26: At that time Jesus exclaimed, 'I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to little children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do.
27: Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
28-30: 'Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.'
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may enter into us and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) Which part of the text caught my attention most and pleased me most?
b) In the first part (25-27), Jesus turns to the Father. What image of the Father does Jesus reveal in his prayer? What is it that urges him to praise the Father? What image do I have of God? When and how do I praise the Father?
c) To whom does Jesus turn in the second part (28-30)? What was the greatest burden carried by the people in those days? What burden is most burdensome today?
d) Which burden comforts me?
e) How can Jesus’ words help our community to be a place of rest in our lives?
f) Jesus presents himself as the one who reveals the Father and as the way to Him. Who is Jesus for me?
5. A key to the reading
for those who wish to go deeper into the text.
a) The literary context of Jesus’ words: chapters 10-12 of Matthew’s Gospel.
* In Matthew’s Gospel, the discourse on the Mission takes up the whole of chapter 10. In the narrative after chapters 11 and 12, where we find a description of how Jesus fulfils the Mission, Jesus has to face incomprehension and resistance. John the Baptist, who looked at Jesus with an eye to the past, could not understand him (Mt 11: 1-15). The people, who looked at Jesus with and eye to self-interest, were incapable of understanding him (Mt 11: 16-19). The big cities around the lake that had heard the preaching and seen the miracles will not open themselves to his message (Mt 11: 20-24). The scribes and doctors, who judged everything according to their knowledge, were not capable of understanding Jesus’ words (Mt 11: 25). Not even do his relatives understand him (Mt 12: 46-50). Only the little ones understand him and accept the good news of the Reign (Mt 11: 25-30). The others look for sacrifices, but Jesus wants mercy (Mt 1: 8). This resistance to Jesus leads the Pharisees to want to kill him (Mt 12: 9-14). They call him Beelzebub (Mt 12: 22-32). But Jesus does not retreat; he goes on with his mission of Servant as described in the prophet Isaiah (Is 42: 1-4) and cited in its entirety by Matthew (12: 15-21).
* Thus the context in chapters 10-12 suggests that the acceptance of the good news by the little ones is the fulfilment of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus is the awaited Messiah, but he is not what the majority expected him to be. He is not the glorious nationalist Messiah, nor is he a strict judge, nor a powerful king Messiah. He is the humble Messiah, the servant who "will not break the crushed reed, nor put out the smouldering wick" (Mt 12: 20). He will fight on until justice and right will prevail in the world (Mt 12: 18,20-21). The acceptance of the Reign by the little ones is the light that shines (Mt 5: 14) and the salt which flavours (Mt 5: 13) and the mustard seed which (when fully grown) will provide room for the birds of the air to nest there among its branches (Mt 13: 31-32).
b) A brief comment on Jesus’ words:
* Matthew 11: 25-26: Only the little ones can understand and accept the good news of the Reign.
Jesus experiences a great joy when the little ones welcome the message of the Reign, and, spontaneously, he transforms his joy into a prayer of jubilation and thanksgiving to the Father: I bless you, Father, of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. The learned, the doctors of that time, had created a series of laws concerning legal purity, which they then imposed on the people in the name of God (Mt 15:" 1-9). They thought that God demanded every single observance, so that the people might acquire peace. But the law of love, revealed by Jesus, said otherwise. In fact, what matters is not that which we do for God, but rather that which God, in his great love, does for us. The little ones heard this good news and rejoiced. The learned and the doctors could not understand this teaching. Today, as then, Jesus is teaching many things to the poor and to the little ones. The learned and intelligent would do well to learn at the feet of these little ones.
Jesus prayed much! He prayed with his disciples, he prayed with the people, he prayed alone. He spent whole nights in prayer. He managed to express his message in one prayer that contains seven concerns, namely, the Our Father. Sometimes, as in this case, the Gospels tell us the content of Jesus’ prayer (Mt 11: 25-26; 26: 39; Jn 11: 41-42; 17: 1-26). At other times, they tell us that Jesus prayed the Psalms (Mt 26: 30; 27: 46). In most cases, however, they just say that Jesus prayed. Today, everywhere prayer groups are increasing.
In Matthew’s Gospel, the term little ones (elakistoi, mikroi, nepioi) sometimes refers to children and sometimes to a group of people excluded from society. It is not easy to distinguish. Sometimes, that which one Gospel calls little ones, another Gospel calls children. Also, it is not easy to distinguish between that which comes from the time of Jesus and that which is from the time of the communities for whom the Gospels were written. But even so, what is clear is the context of exclusion that prevailed then and the image of Jesus as a person who welcomed the little ones that the early communities had of him
* Matthew 11: 27: The origin of the new Law: the Son who knows the Father
Jesus, as Son, knows the Father and knows that which the Father wanted when, in times gone by, he had called Abraham and Sarah to form a people or when he entrusted the Law to Moses to form a covenant. The experience of God as Father helped Jesus to perceive in a new manner the things that God had said in the past. It helped him to recognise errors and limitations, where the good news of God was imprisoned by the dominant ideology. His intimacy with the Father gave him a new criterion that placed him in direct contact with the author of the Bible. Jesus did not move from the letter to the source, but from the source to the letter. He sought the meaning at its origin. To understand the meaning of a letter, it is important to study the words it contains. But Jesus’ friendship with the author of the letter helped him uncover a deeper dimension in those words, which study alone could not reveal.
* Matthew 11: 28-30
Jesus invites all those who are weary and promises them rest. The people of that time lived wearily, under the double burden of levies and the observances demanded by the laws of purity. And Jesus says, Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God had invited the people to examine the past in order to discover the right way that could give them rest for their souls ( Jer 6: 16). This right way now appears in Jesus. Jesus offers rest for souls. He is the way (Jn 14:6).
Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart. Like Moses, Jesus was gentle and humble (Num 12: 3). Many times this phrase has been manipulated to bring people into submission, meekness and passivity. Jesus wants to say the opposite. He asks that people, in order to understand the things of the Reign, not give so much importance to the "learned and doctors", that is, to the official teachers of religion of the time, and that they trust more in the little ones. Those oppressed must begin to learn from Jesus that he is "gentle and humble in heart".
Often, in the Bible the word humble is synonymous with humbled. Jesus, unlike the scribes who flaunted their knowledge, identified himself with the humble and humbled people. He, our Master, knew from experience what was in the hearts of people and how much people suffered in their daily lives.
c) Light on Jesus’ attitude:
* Jesus’ style in proclaiming the good news of the Reign
In his manner of proclaiming the good news of the Reign, Jesus reveals a great passion for the Father and for the humiliated people. Unlike the doctors of his time, Jesus proclaims the good news of God wherever he meets people who will listen to him. In synagogues during the celebration of the Word (Mt 4: 23). In the homes of friends (Mt 13: 36). When walking along the streets with his disciples (Mt 12: 1-8). On the seashore, at the edge of the beach, sitting in a boat (Mt 13: 1-3). On the mountain, where he proclaims the beatitudes (Mt 5: 1). In the squares of villages and cities, where people bring their sick (Mt 14: 34-36). Even in the temple in Jerusalem, at the time of pilgrimages (Mt 26: 55)! In Jesus, everything is the revelation of that which animates his inner being! He not only proclaims the good news of the Reign, he is living proof of the Reign. In him we see what happens when someone allows God to reign and take possession of his/her life.
* The Divine Wisdom’s invitation to all who seek it
Jesus invites all those who suffer under the burden of life to find rest and comfort in him (Mt 11: 25-30). This invitation echoes the beautiful words of Isaiah who comforted the weary people in exile (Is 55: 1-3). This invitation stands in correlation to Divine Wisdom, which calls people to itself (Sir 24: 18-19), saying that "her ways are delightful ways, her paths all lead to contentment" (Prov 3: 17). Again, Wisdom says, "Wisdom brings up her own sons, and cares for those who seek her. Whoever loves her loves life, those who wait on her early will be filled with happiness" (Si 4: 11-12). This invitation reveals a very important feminine aspect of God: the gentleness and welcome that comforts, revitalises the person and makes it feel well. Jesus is the comfort that God gives to a weary people!
6. Psalm 132
The prayer of the little ones
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too
great and too marvellous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a child quieted at its mother's breast;
like a child that is quieted is my soul.
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this
time forth and for evermore.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.