Acceptance or rejection of Jesus and his message is crucial because of who he is. And if we want to know who Jesus really is, all we need do is reflect on the opening verses of today's Gospel, because they assert Jesus' identity in unmistakable terms.
The Gospel today begins with a "thanksgiving," a prayer form common in Judaism and in early Christian liturgy, and these verses are completely at home in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus' bond with His Father has been stressed all throughout the Matthew's Gospel. The obedient Jesus is God's Son; not just a son, but the Son, whose very presence is God's last and best Word to the people of Israel. Matthew portrays Jesus as the ultimate revelation of who God is.
Jesus addresses himself in prayer to the Father, rejoicing that the ministry he performs reveals God's unconditional love especially for the poor and the alienated. We also are daughters and sons of the Father. But He is the Son to whom alone has been given full knowledge/relationship with the Father. This revelation of the Father is not merely his ministry. It is His identity. It is not just what He does. It is who He is. Jesus is the image of God. If we want to know God we need only look to the example of Jesus.
The wider context of this prayer will prove that the learned and self-righteous are blind to the beauty of the Gospel, while the outcasts and the sinners - "mere chldren" - will have their eyes and hearts opened and will respond in faith.
Jesus then offers a promise; the promise of rest, of peace - not as the world gives peace but as the Spirit gives peace; perhaps not for today; but for the day when our hearts can be open to accept it.
The theme of intimate revelation to a chosen few and the Son's privileged knowledge of his Father are found elsewhere in the Old Testament. The Book of Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus seem to be an influence on the beautiful words that conclude today's Gospel. The compassion of Jesus invites the weary and burdened to come to find rest in Him. In Ecclesiasticus, the Jewish Law is personified and offers an almost identical invitation to those who seek God's will. Jesus is God's new "law." He is more than Israel expected. A new beatitude surfaces in Matthew's narration: Happy is the one who does not find Jesus an obstacle. His yoke is easy to those who accept it. His burden is no oppressive network of legal prescriptions, but the joy of a single call to love.
If Christianity is to speak to the contemporary world in a language it can understand, it must be based on the vision of God that we have received from Jesus himself. It must be based on what He himself saw his mission to be. Jesus proclaimed the reign of God. He called his disciples - women and men - to be with Him, to follow, to learn, and to do the work of fulfilling His dream.
This kingdom of God (the reign of God) is the dynamic, active realization of the dream of God for all of creation. It is a living dream, an unrelenting love that continues to manifest itself and hold sway. It is the activity of a God who saves, invites, captures the willing in its drive to unity and to life. It is a recognition that God is with His people, that God will continue to be with His people, and that the people live from and for this promise.
To make this kingdom of God real, we need to do what Jesus did. The yoke that Jesus asks us to bear is the willingness to be as fierce an advocate for our brothers and sisters as He was. The yoke that he bequeaths to us is the strength of our desire to work for the poor, the sick and the marginalized; to uphold the dignity of life - no matter what the cost; and the power of our embrace of one another, no matter how different from us they may be. This yoke is one that goes beyond ourselves and one that we must share with others. The yoke of Christ that we all share is measured by how determined we are to live this "good news" - and to what lengths we are willing to go.
Ultimately, we are who we are. Struggling, unsettled, trying to love, trying to be as compassionate as the Master, trying to listen - sometimes longing for solutions, other times filled with hope. We are the recipients of His promise. And while at times it may not seem easy, it is enough.