Zechariah 9, 9-10 + Psalm 1145 + Romans 8, 9, 11-13 + Matthew 11, 25-30
These verses of Matthew’s Gospel are a cry from the heart of Jesus. He has come to an awareness that the works he does and the wisdom he lives is falling on deaf ears. He has awakened to the fact that those in power, those with authority, the leaders of the people, Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees who held the wealth in the Temple are rigidly bound to the law, deaf by arrogance, blind by pride, stuck in their superstitions and their own ideologies. Talking about the reign of God with them has become impossible. They are unwilling to learn anything. Independent, confident of their opinions, they use their superiority to burden others, judge and accuse, exclude and blame. Convinced that they know everything there is to know about the Law, the Prophets, and God, they look upon something new with suspicion and distrust. They listen to Jesus and think him a heretic. They see the signs and wonders he works and decide that those works come from the devil, because of course, they know everything about God, how God is supposed to act, what God thinks, and what God wants.
In Matthew’s Gospel, this is a turning point for Jesus and for his message. Now the things of God will be hidden from the learned and the clever. Instead they will be revealed to the little ones, the unself-conscious people who are not afraid to wonder and to love. Those who are dependent, receptive, innocent, free and trusting are the ones who will know God and experience the wonder and wisdom of Jesus. He is not threat to them, and they have nothing to fear from him. He sees their ability to wonder as a readiness and openness to the divine presence. He sees their dependence not as a weakness, but as a readiness for God to be their strength. He sees in them a kind of freedom that makes them ready to grow and change, discover and delight in something new.
These “little ones” do not rely on their prestige, their wealth, power, or feigned authority. They can rely only upon God, and it is to them that Jesus now begins to reveal in himself, through his own weakness, a God of mercy and love. To them his powerlessness in his passion and death is no stumbling block. They know what it is like to be persecuted, to suffer, and be helpless. To them the resurrection news comes as hope and a vindication that God will see and hear, raise up and glorify those who seek God’s will and God’s reign before their own.
“Learn from me.” he says. Gentleness and humility is what he teaches to those who will learn. But to the self-reliant who know everything, there is nothing to learn, and gentleness and humility are lessons far from them, and so is God. The prophet describes the one who comes in the name of the Lord as being “meek” and riding on a colt the foal of an ass. No horse like the powerful, like the Romans in those days; but on a colt. This is a difficult and hard lesson for those who are independent, who rely on themselves, their connections, and their privilege.
It has been said that noble and wise people are often heard to say: “I didn’t know that.” No matter how much they have studied, read, and accomplished, there is for them always more to learn that springs from a kind of wisdom that always seeks the truth never believing that they possess the truth. That kind of wisdom and nobility never trusts and never relies on power or wealth, but uses power and wealth to empower and enrich others. To nations and cultures the message of Jesus speaks in every age and place. Armies and Weapons, Money and Influence can make no peace or lead to goodness and righteousness. Being independent is no path to goodness and God. It just makes one lonely and empty. Knowledge without Wisdom is foolish and useless if it does not leave us receptive to wonder, beauty, and love.
Jesus completes this lesson using an image out of the farming methods of his day. Usually, beasts of burden were paired in a double yoke so they could combine their efforts at plowing. With that image of a shared yoke and shared burden, he assures us that we are not alone facing the future as disciples. He is our yokemate. With an assurance of rest and his presence, he never promised a life free from sorrow or struggle. He simply assures us that if we keep close to him, we will find relief from crushing burdens, crippling anxiety, a sense of frustration and futility, and the misery of a conscience burdened by sin. For those of us who have to learn about yokes and paired oxen, there is a more easily appreciated image that can carry the same promise: the image of a Christian marriage and the Church. As spouses bear one another’s burdens, work together side by side forgiving and encouraging. The very thought and image that the Church, the Christian community, is the bride of Christ lifts us all with hope and courage because we are not now and never will be alone.
Our presence here, this pause in the routine of a summer week, is the rest he promises. Take a deep breath when you come in here. Put down your worries and concerns, fears and doubts. Our communion together and with Christ feeds us and binds us together to bear the burdens of the past and the future. Being here will make whatever comes this week easier because we are assured of help. This is the Spirit Paul speaks of to the Romans, and it is reason to rejoice with the joy the prophet Zechariah has proclaimed.