Reflection for Sunday, 2 November 2014 – All Souls’ Day – “The Flowering of Life” by Fr Hugh O’Donnell.
Lectio divina on Mt 11,25-30 – Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed
Faced with the incredulity of the majority, Jesus is pleased with the faith that he finds among the few who dare to accept his message without being scandalised by him. They are the reason for Jesus’ prayer in which he reveals his most intimate secret: his Father is God of the simple people, a God who makes the little ones wise and makes the ignorant learned. Because he had simple people around him who would not be scandalised, Jesus was able to declare that he was the Son of God and that he was grateful towards his Father. After this act of thanksgiving, Jesus offers rest to those simple people. The healing and relief that the disciples will find in their master is not due to the absence of impositions or a lack of instruction. His teaching is light because Jesus is gentle. His burden is bearable because he has a humble heart. His burden and his rest are for his disciples. Jesus does not free them from obedience nor from the cross. He promises, however, that obedience will not be too difficult for them, and that he will give rest to those who carry their cross.
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
Although the gospels tell us that Jesus prayed often, they do not often tell us the content of his prayer. That makes this brief passage all the more precious. In it we find not only the sentiments of Jesus and the words he addressed to God, his Father, but also an invitation to share his rest and his teaching. Jesus extends this invitation to all who are tired and overburdened.
This prayer is consoling but it has a very specific motive. Jesus said this prayer during his public ministry when he observed that, among those who were following him, only a few simple people were accepting God and opening their lives to his will. This little ‘triumph’ of his evangelizing work brought joy to Jesus’ heart and a prayer to his lips. The so-called good people thought Jesus was not good enough, and the learned and clever thought he was not sufficiently capable. Only the humble gave him credit and appreciated him, and felt drawn to follow him. For those who did follow him, he became their teacher of prayer and giver of rest.
The prayer has three distinct parts. It begins with thanksgiving. Jesus declared himself grateful to his Father, for revealing himself to the little ones. He is thanking the father for the success of his mission, and there is already a lesson for us in this. He makes it clear that the Father himself rejoices that he has been understood by the little ones. This preference of God for the little ones is a reason for Jesus to give thanks, and he thanks the Father also that his own personal mission has not failed.
The second statement of Jesus is not so much a prayer as a personal confession. He calls himself Son, with great simplicity and clarity. He acknowledges that his mission to make the Father known is a gift that has been given to him. The words he uses are striking: “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.” To know God the Father we must learn from the Son.
The third statement is an invitation, or rather, a promise. He leaves his prayer and his personal confession and moves on to exhortation. He is no longer speaking to the Father who is known only through the Son, nor to the Son who makes the Father known, but to those of his listeners who feel the need of comfort and rest.
Jesus never ceases to surprise. Before he promises rest, he imposes two tasks on his followers, giving them two commands – ‘shoulder my yoke’, and ‘learn from me’. The disciple may feel tired, but if he wants comfort he will have to learn from his master and carry his master’s yoke. The yoke is easy but the disciple must accept it, and the burden is light but he must carry it nonetheless.
II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life
The people who prompted Jesus’ prayer were simple people who believed without too much understanding, people who were deemed unimportant. Because he knew that they accepted him and his teaching, Jesus let them share his prayer. In it he revealed his personal mystery, thanked the Father and praised the Father’s will. Could we ever hope to have such an influence on Jesus? Anyone who acknowledges Jesus, causes Jesus to give thanks to his Father. Anyone who is not scandalized by him, obliges him to reveal himself as the Son of God. It should be enough for us that Jesus is happy to be accepted by people, even if they are as simple and lacking in merit as we are. We should make an effort to ensure that he is known and appreciated, without seeking recognition or esteem for ourselves. This should be enough for us because then, we will be the cause of his joy and his prayer.
We know very little about those first disciples. We don’t even know their names. But we, like they, can restore Jesus’ confidence in himself and in God, if we resolve to follow him and not be scandalized by him, to stay with him and not seek other teachers, to obey him alone and serve no other master. It does not require great deeds, nor exceptional intelligence, nor riches. We are good enough as we are. Surely it is not too great a price to pay – we only have to put our hope in him, poor and simple as we are.
After he has prayed, Jesus invites those who accept him and who are happy with him to renew their strength and find relief from their pain, as they follow him closely. He wants to make disciples of those who accept him without reserve. He wants them to learn from him how to rest from their labours. They know who he is and so they are worthy to be his friends. However, he does not hide the fact that, even when they are close to him, the difficulties do not disappear. Jesus does not deceive his followers, no matter how simple they may be. He speaks to them of a yoke and a burden. He does not hide his demands nor make them any lighter. The rest and comfort the disciples receive from their master is not due to the absence of impositions or an easy way of life. The teaching of Jesus is easy because Jesus is gentle, and his burden is light because he has a humble heart. It is, then, both burden and comfort for his disciples. Jesus does not free his disciples from obedience or from the cross. He simply promises them that they will not fall under the weight of his demands and that being obedient and carrying their cross will not be too much of a burden for them.
And he gives the reason. He is a humble master, at the level of simple people. He is a merciful teacher who does not lose patience with his disciples when they forget his teaching. Jesus’ disciples know this, if they learn from him how much God loves everyone, and if they see the will of God as their guide in life. They are not free therefore from their duty as disciples. But because Jesus is a master with a compassionate heart, the disciple can rest in perfect tranquillity, even when he is not able to repeat all he has learnt or to put into practice all he has been taught. The Master’s deep compassion keeps the disciple from feeling that he has failed. Jesus does not love us because we are good, but he wants us to be better than we are. He does not give up on us, and continues to gives us more than we give him, more than we are able to receive. Jesus always gives more…
He loves us so much, with a heart that is afflicted by our sinfulness, that he never loses hope for us, even if we do not succeed in being good. He never rejects us because we have not become better. In Jesus we have a Master who will always ask more of us, because he always loves us more, but he will not stop loving us when we fail to live according to his will.
His poverty is our best guarantee. Being a disciple of Jesus is difficult but not painful. It may sometimes be heavy but never oppressive. If even disobedient disciples find acceptance and healing, what will he have in store for those who try hard to follow him more closely? Tiredness and fatigue are never a reason for abandoning him. Indeed, the tired and overburdened are precisely those who are invited by Jesus. Let’s not forget that! If we do not follow him, because we fear the yoke or the burden, we will continue to feel the fatigue and the injustices of life. Jesus is joy and repose only for those who accept him as their gentle and humble master. What keeps us back, then, from choosing him as our only Master and Lord?