I will give you rest

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 (Zechariah 9:9-12, Psalm 145:8-14, Romans 7:15-25a)

My childhood was pretty low tech.  I remember playing outside a lot (Scottish weather permitting!).  I remember playing “connect the dots,” and being amazed at the hidden object thus revealed.  I find my self connecting the dots once again with this week’s Gospel text: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30.  The words are so familiar:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (vs. 28-30).

After listening to Jesus talk about the cost of discipleship – the price to be paid for picking up one’s cross and following him – one can reasonably ask, “What’s so light about that burden? what’s so easy about that yoke?”  Well, Scripture interprets Scripture, so let’s look at Matthew 23:2-4:

 [Jesus said] The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.

Things are becoming a wee bit clearer now.  The Scribes and Pharisees are the educated, religious leaders.  They are the sophoi and the synetoi referred to by Jesus in verse 25: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”  These are the same leaders who find it impossible to respond faithfully to the call of John the Baptist or of Jesus.  John came with great sobriety and a life typified by abstinence; and the authorities said he was demonic.  Jesus came with a message of joy, and broke bread with all; and the authorities said he was a glutton and drunkard.  Jesus compares these responses with two children’s games: the wedding game and the funeral game: “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn” (vs. 17).  Instead, Jesus lifts up the nēpioi – the infants, the lowly: they know how to dance and to mourn.  They respond to the call of the Baptizer and the Messiah.  They have ears to listen.

It is then that Matthew – uniquely amongst the Gospel writers – shares Jesus words, shifting now to the positive (vs. 28-30) from the preceding negative.  I will refresh you, Jesus says (an alternate translation of “give you rest”).  My burden is easy and light compared with that of the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus says, because they do not practice what they preach.    Jesus however is what he preaches: he is servanthood and love (those are his commandments); he is gentleness and humility (as his passion and death illustrates).  Jesus is the embodiment of his teaching, his torah.  

In Hebrew, the Torah are the Books of Moses, the first five books of the Hebrew Scripture: Genesis through Deuteronomy.  However, the word literally means teaching, direction, and guidance; not just “law” (which is how most Christians translate the word).  The lightness of Jesus’ burden is that it is love.  And then Jesus shows what love without limit, and life without end, looks like.