Today’s Gospel is much beloved, and rightly so, for it is a message of great consolation and comfort. But we need to understand under what conditions Jesus uttered this invitation of comfort.
In the opening of today’s Gospel we read: “At that time Jesus exclaimed:” What time was that? I think it is important to know when, and under what circumstances Jesus speaks these very consoling words: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” ¿Was this at some idyllic retreat, out in a gorgeous meadow of wildflowers, under the shade of an elegant willow, birds chirping sweetly in the branches?
Well, NO. We need to go back five verses before our Gospel reading for today begins to get the setting and properly understand what is really going on here. The five verses immediately before our reading today are: “ Then Jesus began to reproach the towns where most of his mighty deeds had been done, since they had not repented. they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes. And as for you, Capernaum: ‘Will you be exalted to heaven? At that time Jesus said in reply, You will go down to the netherworld.’ For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. “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 the childlike.”
The soothing and comforting words of today’s Gospel follow immediately on Jesus chastising and condemning the Galilean towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. What is going on? Well, obviously Jesus is really, really angry. Jesus went to Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum (where St Peter was from), all fishing villages just a couple of miles from each other, on the Northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. And Jesus preached there, He worked “mighty deeds”, that is miracles, there, Jesus gave it His best shot, and ….. nothing. Jesus flopped. Big time.
The people did not respond, they did not repent, they did not follow him. The people were too busy with their jobs, their friends, their hobbies, their favorite TV programs, following the local sports teams, political debates, and just trying to get ahead. They insult Jesus in the worst possible way: they ignore him.
And Jesus gets pretty riled up. . they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes.” Jesus is telling His audience they are worse than those awful pagan places.
“And as for you, Capernaum: ‘Will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to the netherworld.’ In other words, Jesus is saying, “go to hell”. “For – He says - if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, (and we all know that Sodom was like Las Vegas, sin city) it would have remained until this day.
Jesus gives it to them with both barrels because He is frustrated and upset and angry. And so what does Jesus do? He praises God.
He praises God. “At that time Jesus exclaimed: ‘I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and learned you have revealed them to little ones.”
Now I don’t know about you, but when I am really angry and hot and bothered and all worked up, praising God is NOT the first thing that comes to my mind. But that is what Jesus does. Jesus is so in tune with His Father that rather than focusing on His own disappointment, failure and defeat, Jesus rather focuses on what the Father is doing in this disappointing result.
Because Jesus sees the Father leading him away from these rather busy and successful towns people to instead reach out to the little people, the people who don’t count for anything, the people on the margins, the poor, the vulnerable, the socio-economically oppressed. The Biblical term in anawim. That is what Jesus means when He says the “little ones”, meaning the ones of no account socially.
Letting go His frustration and anger and disappointment Jesus turns His attention to where the Father is guiding Him, to the anawim. “Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. … 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.”
What are we to make of this remarkable turn, where Jesus goes from denouncing and condemning to in the next paragraph speaking words of such comfort and invitation?
I believe that in this instance we see the essence of sacrifice. Jesus lets go of His desire to be successful, to be acclaimed, to be approved especially by those who count, who are movers and shakers, to be a success. Jesus lets that go to instead follow the Father’s Will, which leads him to the outcasts, the downtrodden, the broken, the sick, the poor, the stranger and the immigrant, the anawim. It is an example in action of what Jesus would pray in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before His death, “not my will, but thine be done.”
For us it is clear. As we enter into the sacrifice of the Mass, it is much more demanding than simply repeating certain ritual actions. We must praise God the Father in the way our brother Jesus did: By letting go of our own willfulness, to be open and empty to see and follow God’s Will for us, and to praise God for that.
In that way we will enter into Jesus’ peace, Jesus’ rest. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Today our nation is involved in a complicated, heated and sometimes rancorous debate about how to respond to thousands of undocumented women and children coming across the border, mostly here in Texas, as they flee violence and murder perpetrated by gangs and drug cartels in their home countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. These children and women, victims and poor, are anawim, little ones. How are we to respond?
As individuals, as Christians, as Americans, we are called to follow the Will of our Father in Heaven. That is the only way to the fullness of life.
Our brother Jesus says: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”