Lifting our burdens

POST BY PEdmonds

Lifted hands in praise

For the next twenty Sundays, we hear the voice of Matthew in our Sunday gospels. From the earliest days of Christianity, this gospel has been the one most quoted by the Fathers of the church and most used in her liturgy. One reason for this is the abundance of the teaching of Jesus that it includes: Matthew is surely a scribe “trained for the kingdom of heaven who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:51). He is the evangelist who offers us the most elevated portrait of Jesus. His Jesus not only spoke long ago in Galilee, but he is the Risen Lord who continues to speak with authority to his church. He remains “Emmanuel”, “God with us”, until the end of time (1:23; 28:20). As for the disciples in this gospel, they are not only the “men of little faith” who panicked when tossed about in a storm, but they are people with whom we can identify, as we acknowledge our own “little faith”. When we find ourselves buffeted by the storms of life, we are to join them in the boat that is the church as they cry, “Lord, save us, we are perishing” (8:23-27).

This weekend, we overhear the personal prayer of Matthew’s Jesus. At this mid-point of his ministry, he has been meeting misunderstanding and opposition (11:2-24). His prayer is one of praise and thanks, not complaint. He addresses God as Father, as he instructed his disciples to do (6:9). He thanks God because the revelation he was offering has been accepted by “mere children”. Later, we will learn that “the one who humbles himself like a child will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (18:1-3).  Here is a self-description of the members of the church of Matthew’s time (10:42). The Risen Lord is giving them and us a lesson in prayer.

A recent commentator on Matthew has admitted that this had been his least favourite gospel because it has “rather too much talk of punishment and hellfire”. But through pondering passages like this one in the second part of our Sunday gospel, “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest”, he changed his mind. Elsewhere Matthew compares Jesus with the Servant of Isaiah, because he “took our infirmities and bore our diseases” (Isaiah 53:4; Matthew 8:17). Twice in this gospel, Jesus quotes God’s words in the prophet Hosea, “What I want is mercy, not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13; 12:7). When recounting Jesus’ offering of the cup of the Eucharist to his disciples at the Last Supper, only Matthew tells us that this was “for the forgiveness of sins” (26:28). Certainly, Matthew’s Jesus was in the words of Zechariah, quoted in our first reading, “victorious and triumphant”, but he was also humble. He entered Jerusalem “riding on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9-10; Matthew 21:25).  Because of such texts, our commentator entitled his work on Matthew, “Lifting our burdens”. He writes, “Far from adding to humanity’s burdens, Jesus comes to bear and lift them”.

Read Zechariah 9:9–10; Matthew 11:25–30

Fr Peter Edmonds SJ