At last we return to our orderly reading of Matthew – and see how beautiful are the ordinary words of the Gospel.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
Such words are like balm. They are really worth reading and hearing just to bathe in them. Such a beautiful reminder that none of our pious meditations can equal the healing power of God’s word.
But let us come to him, and learn! These words teach us even more when we read them in context. The Lectionary is good enough to give us the verses that immediately proceed.
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones. . . . No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
The two halves of this paragraph illumine one another. Not by strength does man prevail. It’s not human wisdom that discovers the love of the Father. It’s a gift, through Jesus Christ.
And this is the deeper meaning of “take my yoke upon you.” The “rest” he gives us is precisely knowledge of the Father. This is the cure to our labors and burdens.
We have to take his “yoke” upon us. But this doesn’t mean hard work. To the contrary, it means being so assimilated to him that we let him be our all – let Jesus be the source of our strength, and learn from him to receive everything from the Father. That’s the true meaning of meekness.
And meekness is a “yoke” – a challenge to our self-sufficient ways, requiring a real change of behavior – but also “easy,” because what we learn is precisely that we don’t have to be self-sufficient.
The other two readings are well chosen to take us deeper into the Gospel.
The prophet Zechariah says, “your king shall come to you . . . meek, and riding on an ass . . . He shall banish the chariot . . . and the horse . . . the warrior’s bow shall be banished,
It is, of course, the prophecy Jesus fulfills. But notice the double banishing of the warrior’s bow. On the one hand – and this is always powerful in the prophets, who spoke during the time of exile – this gentle king banishes our enemies. He conquers all our labors and burdens, by a strength beyond human strength.
And on the other hand, he banishes not just our enemies bow, but our own as well. We can afford to be meek, because we are given a greater happiness. When he is our king and our shepherd, we don’t have to fight.
On the Cross, Jesus triumphs not by fighting harder, but by bringing the all-healing presence of God. He doesn’t take away our crosses, but fills them with love.
We should hear the prophet’s language of place, as well. “Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!” We are to imagine ourselves as David’s city, finally liberated by the coming of the king. We find ourselves in that city, which is the Church. And we receive his salvation by being part of the city.
But the reading ends, “he shall proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” The great king’s city is not exclusive. The Church does not keep outsiders out. It is a light to the nations, to draw everyone in to the joy of his salvation.
The reading from Romans gives us a personal charge. It is not anti-body: “the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also.” But it does call us to live by a new standard: “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
We are called not to live “in the flesh,” not according to the logic of this world. But “in the spirit . . . the Spirit of God who dwells in you” and brings us to a new kind of city, a new kind of happiness, a new way of life.
Where do you spend your money for what is not bread, and labor for what does not satisfy? Where are you called to set down your weapons and let Christ be your all?