July 9, 2017
Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
The Gospel passage that we’ve just heard concludes Chapter 11 of Matthew’s Gospel: a chapter that begins with John the Baptist’s question from prison (“Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?” Mt 11:3), and it continues with two stern warnings of Jesus.
The first (Mt 11:16-19) is addressed “to this generation”, which proves to be unable to accept neither the Baptist nor the Lord, putting forward for both one and the other a series of pretexts that, in reality, conceal its inability to play, to open itself to welcome. The second is directed more specifically to two cities by the lake, Chorazin and Bethsaida: they saw with their own eyes the different miracles done by Jesus, and they did not convert (Mt 11:20-24).
But what would they have to do to convert?
This is what we find out in today’s Gospel passage, where we are confronted with the wonderment of Jesus: how, at first, He was astonished at the inability of this generation to convert, to enter into a new style of life, so now He’s amazed by the Father, and praises Him.
Clearly, He does not praise Him for the rejection that He has encountered.
He praises Him, and is amazed, at the Father’s way of acting, where He hides Himself from the great, the learned, the scholars, and reveals Himself to the poor, the least, the little. He does not change their life in a sensational way: the little remain little, the poor do not become rich, except in a relationship where everything that is given by the Father to the Son is also given to them.
But what is this “everything”?
In the scene of the temptations in the desert (Mt 4:1-11), even the devil promised to give Jesus everything (Mt. 4:9); but Jesus knows well that this everything is nothing, outside of the relationship with the Father. This relationship is the real “everything”.
Then Jesus stops and, full of wonder, contemplates this immense gift: “Everything has been given to me by my Father; no one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son wishes to reveal Him” (Mt 11:27).
Well then, this means that He who is Lord of heaven and earth (Mt 11:25), decided to reveal Himself and give Himself completely, and He does it only with those who welcome Him, with those who have no pretense of being able to know Him by their powers, their studies, their abilities. The devil demanded a price in exchange for his “everything”.
The poor are those who have nothing to give in exchange, and they receive life as a gift: and the first to live like this, the first poor one, is Jesus Himself. It is He who takes on an attitude of total welcome, of listening, of trust: He is completely intent to the Father (Jn 1:1). And He is the first to experience a totally received life, filled with the Father’s presence.
So, to convert, it’s necessary to be in a special relationship of listening, the one that binds Jesus to the Father: within their communication, within their dialogue, there is a new wisdom of life.
Outside of this, there is only oppression and weariness (Mt 11:28): and, here, it is not about the habitual struggle that life has in store for everyone, but about the struggle of life that we find within when we are alone, when we place ourselves outside this dialogue of love, when we stop listening to the Father who has fully revealed Himself in the Son (“Everything has been given to me by my Father”). If we listen to another, if we pretend to find in us an alternative way, the failure will make us continually tired persons.
Jesus, in this weariness, comes with a proposal: “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29). The adjective “meek”, in the New Testament, appears almost exclusively in the Gospel of Matthew, who recounts it three times: in the beatitudes (Mt 5:5), in the passage we’ve heard today, and, then at the end, when Jesus enters Jerusalem (Mt 21:5).
So we can say that he is meek who takes much care in listening to the Father’s Word of love and mercy, who does it so much, that he renounces all violence and power, and stakes his life on the Word of Him who gives him everything. And he does it even at the cost of life, even paying personally, like Jesus, who enters Jerusalem to give Himself even to the end: He is the true meek.
This meekness, Jesus says, is “learned”: it is not acquired once for all, but it requires a humble and constant learning, a formation of the heart. We can read in this light John’s question from prison with which chapter 11 begins: “Are you…?” (Mt 11:3).
To John’s expectations of a strong, victorious, just Messiah, Jesus sends back the meek works of the Messiah, and in so doing, reveals the Father and His secret. And He invites to conversion, which, for John as for us, will be nothing other than a conversion to the meekness and humility of God.