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Matthew 11:25-30

Rest for the Weary

     25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this was for your good pleasure.

     27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

     28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

It might be true that some of the things Jesus said don’t get the attention they deserve because they’re short. Longer parables and long stories in which Jesus talks to a person like Nicodemus or performs a healing – they seem like good passages to base a sermon or a Bible lesson on. But shorter sayings might tend to get lost in the shuffle, so to speak.

Take today’s reading, for instance. It’s made up of three short sayings of Jesus, but only one of the three is that familiar, and I’m not sure most people could say what Jesus meant by it. The other two hardly seem to get any attention to speak of. But when you look at them, all three have something to say that’s well worth reflecting on. (Not surprising, since Jesus was the Messiah and all.) So let’s have a look.

In the first of these three sayings, Jesus prays a prayer of thanks that there is a level of spiritual truth that is “hidden from the wise and the learned” and revealed to “little children.” Now the New Testament scholars say Jesus probably isn’t talking about actual little kids here. Instead, he’s probably using childhood as a metaphor for a humble and open spiritual state – as he does in the gospel of Luke, when he says, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

In the ancient world, kids weren’t encouraged to call attention to themselves they way they are in our culture. People really believed that children should be – as the saying goes – “seen and not heard.” So Jesus seem to be making the point that people should come to him with genuine humility, with the realization of their own spiritual weakness and their dependence on him.

I wouldn’t want to diminish the value of the teachers and scholars who study the scriptures and think deeply about the theology of our faith. The rest of us are dependent on those teachers and scholars to help us understand the Bible and the things of the faith. But it really does seem like there’s a simplicity at the core of the way of Jesus. It’s a simplicity that brand-new Christians as well as learned scholars can understand. One of the leading theologians of the 20th century was once asked to set out the heart of the Christian faith. His reply was, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

There’s sometimes a temptation for highly educated scholars to let their great learning obscure the simple meaning of what Jesus said and did. But even the most educated believers can open their hearts to God like little children, and rejoice at the truth that Jesus loves all those who follow him, simple and wise alike.

The middle part of today’s reading makes a couple of interesting points. The first is that no one really knows Jesus except God (and, we might say, the Holy Spirit). For those of us who have been raised in the Christian faith, there’s a tendency to think we know everything worth knowing about Jesus. He’s such a familiar figure to us we make the mistake of thinking we have him all figured out. But then sometimes we come across a story in the gospels that confuses – like the story in which Jesus seems to liken a Syro-Phoenician woman to a dog.

But since Jesus is the human incarnation of a holy and mysterious God, it’s probably inevitable that there will always be things about him that we can’t understand. So a little humility is called for on our part.

And then Jesus goes on to say that no one will really know God except those to whom Jesus reveals him. We understand that it is in Jesus that God most clearly reveals his character to us, so we learn a good deal about God’s nature by studying Jesus. But followers of Jesus also get an additional benefit: Our hearts and minds are opened to a continuing revelation of God’s nature, and that’s a process that lasts the rest of our lives, as long as we try to grow in faith and understanding.

In the last part of this reading, Jesus says that ‘his yoke is easy and his burden is light.’ That can seem a little challenging, because for most of us, the life of discipleship can seem hard. He’s commanded us to forgive seventy-times-seven times, to love our enemies, to go the extra mile, to give someone our shirt if they ask for our coat, and to be willing to take up our cross and follow him daily. That doesn’t exactly seem ‘easy and light.’

But maybe this is the way to think about it: Someone once said that a good newspaper should “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Maybe the same thing is true about the teachings of Jesus – about his “yoke.”

To the self-righteous and self-satisfied, to those who think they have it all figured out, serious study of the teachings of Jesus can seem challenging and painful, because Jesus had no use for self-righteous religiosity. But on the other hand, to those who have been crushed and broken by the trouble of the world, to those who have been rejected and marginalized – to those who are already afflicted – the words of Jesus are a tremendous comfort – a light and easy yoke.

It seems to me that most of us have times in our life of faith when we are among the comfortable, and times when we are among the afflicted. And in this passage, Jesus seems to me to be making two promises.

The first is that in those times when we are congratulating ourselves on having things all figured out, in those times when we are patting ourselves on the back for our own virtue and righteousness, we will find that our own hypocrisy and self-righteousness hide the face of God from us. We will have, as Jesus said elsewhere, “a log in our own eye” that hides from us the real presence of God.

But the other promise is that in those times when life seems too heavy for us, when we are crushed and exhausted by the trials of life and by the realization of our own sins and inadequacies, Jesus is there to give us rest. To take away the heavy burden we’re bearing and give us a lighter one. To let his love wash over us and renew us in our relationship with God.

Sometimes we find being a follower of Jesus to be really hard. But that’s mostly when we’re trying to be “good Christians” by our own efforts and our own righteousness. On the other hand, in those times when we really take to heart the truth that we’re never going to achieve real “goodness,” that’s when our hearts cry out, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and we find a rest that comes from Jesus alone, “a peace that passes all understanding.” And with that peace, his yoke is easy and his burden is light.

Let’s pray. Lord, you know that our instinct is to try to achieve righteousness by our own efforts, and you know the frustration that arises when we do. Help us to accept the truth that it is only by opening ourselves to the movement of your Holy Spirit that we will ever be transformed in the image of Jesus. And help us to open our hearts to the easy yoke and light burden of trusting in that Spirit. Amen.

Every Blessing,

Henry

(The other readings for today are Psalms 54 and 146; Jeremiah 40:7 – 41:3; and I Corinthians 15:41-50.)