This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
New English Translation (NET)
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 intelligent, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son decides to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.”
The great Danish theologian and philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, does an extended riff on this text, pointing out how ironical it is in the mouth of the crucified Messiah. Come to me and carry the cross, Jesus invited his disciples. So what on earth does he mean by this gracious invitation, by these “comfortable words” as they are called in the Anglican Eucharist?
It is an affirmation of what I called in yesterday’s blog, “the impossible grace by which God accommodates his unimaginable greatness to us.”
First of all this happens in relationship. Jesus’ words are not pointing to himself as the second person of the Holy Trinity but rather as the loving servant and confidant of the loving father. He is bearing witness. But God’s love is not a mere emotion; it is his complete trust in his human child to establish his rule in the world. The wisdom of the world cannot discover what only trust can reveal; the knowledge of oneself as God’s beloved child. Jesus would have found this revelation in Scripture, applied to Israel, as in Hosea Ch.11
“When Israel was a child, I loved him
and called him from Egypt to be my son.
I myself taught him to walk,
I myself took him by the arm,
but he did not know that I was the carer,
that I was leading him with human ties, with leading strings of love,
that I was like one who lifts a baby to his cheek,
like one who bends down to feed him.”
Jesus acts on behalf of Israel to trust this love fully and to live within this relationship. Accordingly there is for him no valid knowledge of God outside this relationship; only the one who trusts completely and is trusted completely can understand the Father’s goodness. But by his mode of speech Jesus goes on to identify himself with another figure from Israel’s tradition, “Lady Wisdom”, who is found especially in Proverbs 1 and 8, and who invites people to “Come to me”. Jesus understands this tradition as continuing the insights of the prophets and showing what it means to trust God in this world. The wisdom tradition frequently distinguishes between the wise and happy person who learns God’s way and the sad and foolish person who does not. This wisdom is the “easy yoke” of which Jesus speaks. It is not the burden which God imposes on others, but rather the burden which God accepts in the world and invites his children to share with him. God is partner to human beings under this yoke. That’s why, although the bearing of it may involve the most atrocious suffering even to the point where the sufferer doubts if God is there at all, as Jesus did, nevertheless nothing can extinguish the joy of sharing the small love against which the gates of hell cannot prevail. In less testing times, this “yoke” leads to a thousand fruitful paths of practical living, such as are taught by Lady Wisdom,
“Her ways are ways of pleasantness
and all her paths are peace.” (Proverbs 3:17)
It is therefore wrong to suggest that Jesus Way is not intended for this world. It is true that it neither brings automatic success in this world nor promises freedom from suffering. But because it is the way of God in the world, it is precisely intended for this world; it is a goodness that fits the needs of mortal creatures, by which their lives can be rightly and joyfully ordered. Even in suffering, even in death, it wins because it is a partnership with the living God.