While today’s text has strong comfort appeal to anyone who is burdened or suffering under life’s heavy demands, the original sense of the passage is quite specific. Biblical Scholars identify these texts as coming from the "wisdom tradition" of the Hebrew bible. God is offering a new wisdom to those who open their hearts to hear his word. Life and the scriptures frequently stand in stark contrast to one another. Which shall we believe and where does wisdom for living lie?
The theme of intimate revelation to a chosen few and the Son's privileged knowledge of his Father are prominent in the Old Testament. The Book of Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus seem to be an influence on the beautiful words that conclude today's Gospel. 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 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.
Matthew adopts the wisdom motif to point to Jesus as God’s wisdom made flesh. Wisdom doesn’t come from our own efforts or learning, it comes to those gifted with it by God. Jesus challenges us to determine what is the wise and what is the foolish way of living.
We don’t have to accept a long list of rules that will cover all of life’s circumstances. That would be an impossible list to read, much less follow. Rather, we are invited to look at the world through Jesus’ eyes, to accept his wisdom. To him we are all daughters and sons of God. We may look different and speak differently but beneath the surface we have the same parent, God who loves us all. We are not strangers to each other. We are members of the same family.
The wisdom Jesus offers is not book knowledge, but a Person - himself. We come to that wisdom by following and staying close to him, observing his actions, listening to his words, imitating him and seeing the world from his perspective. That’s what makes the disenfranchised wise and those who claim they know everything foolish.
Quite a twist. But it is a Gospel twist. The wise are foolish, and the “little ones” wise. Or put in another way, the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
Wisdom demands a choice. Jesus was “meek and humble of heart” because he chose to be that way. Meekness seems like a useless and impossible virtue in our modern world with all its weapons and aggressions. But the Gospel today challenges us to be meek and humble of heart. True wisdom disarms our own hearts not returning anger against anger but by using our trust in Jesus' words to stand with the powerless and those broken by life and society.
Jesus offers us his yoke - an invitation to accept the message he offers and the forgiveness and new life that comes with that message. It is a yoke of trust and humility and will require our total lives in service. But in accepting Jesus' yoke we come to meet God and find the rest Jesus promises.