Reflection on the Gospel-14th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
-Veronica Lawson RSM
Today’s gospel begins with Jesus’ prayer of thanksgiving to God. The verb “to thank” in this instance has connotations of blessing. In this prayer of blessing or thanksgiving, Jesus contrasts those who consider themselves wise and intelligent with the truly wise ones, the “little ones” who know the daily struggle to survive, those to whom the secrets of God’s empire have been revealed. The prosperity gospel that affirms the acquisition of wealth is far removed from the gospel preached by Jesus of Nazareth and proclaimed in Matthew’s gospel. God’s ways turn human expectations upside down.
The final verses of today’s gospel are among the best known and best loved in all of the gospel tradition. “Come to me…and I will give you rest” is a lovely invitation. It is issued to those who are weary and burdened, and that includes most of us at some time or another. We might hear it spoken to all who are working tirelessly to address the effects of Covid-19. We might equally hear it as addressed to African Americans and First Peoples of Australia who are weary and burdened by waiting for justice. The “rest” that Jesus offers is God’s rest. It is not just relief from drudgery and hard work. In the biblical tradition, rest is shabbat. It is freedom from any sort of enslavement. It is freedom to remember God’s goodness in creation. Rest time or shabbat is about making a space to contemplate the wonder of the galaxies, the wonder of life in all its forms and all its potentialities. God’s rest restores life to our wearied spirits. It frees us to open ourselves to ever new possibilities and to be there for others. Spending a little time each day with a poem or a beautiful painting can be an experience of entering into God’s rest.
“Take my yoke upon you…” is Jesus’ further invitation. Later in this gospel, the same verb will be used when Jesus tells his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them … take up their cross and follow me.” The “yoke” of Jesus, the cross that he will take up, and the cross that his disciples are invited to bear are all of a piece. A yoke is a cross-beam or cross-bar. Jesus will carry his cross-beam to execution. Disciples, in their turn, will carry their cross-beams, figuratively if not literally. They will not be weighed down or burdened by this prospect for the “yoke” of which Jesus speaks is easy and the burden is light. How can this be? The answer lies in the final invitation: “Learn of me, for I am gentle and humble of heart….” In Matthew, the gentle are said to be blessed. There is nothing weak about the gentle (“meek” is not a helpful translation). The non-violent methods of the gentle are infinitely more effective in restoring creation than the violence of so many who present themselves as “wise and intelligent”. God’s “rest” is the source of their power-and of ours.