Sunday reflection: Matthew 11:25–30
This morning’s Gospel reading is Matthew 11:25–30:
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 the learned you have revealed them to little ones. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. 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 wishes to reveal him.
“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.”
Not all that long ago, I interviewed my colleague and friend Dennis Prager, and the conversation turned to one of his favorite subjects — happiness. Dennis consistently points out that most people don’t understand the term, and mistake it for gratification or momentary enjoyment. One of Dennis’ key recommendations to happiness is to follow the Fourth Commandment — Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. That may take different forms in different faith traditions, but in any of them, it means disconnecting from worldly pursuits and putting the Lord first. We certainly have the facility to work and engage seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, at least for a while, but it wears on us and makes us unhappy. The Lord’s commandment was not given for His sake, but for ours — for our happiness, as a way to remind us to put all things into proper perspective.
These days, it has become even clearer why the Lord included that command. The ease of engagement has made it almost an obsession. Several years ago, the comic strip XKCD perfectly encapsulated the issue into a one-panel masterpiece. A figure bans away on a computer keyboard while an off-frame voice asks him if he’s coming to bed. “I can’t,” he replies, “this is important. Someone is wrong on the Internet.”
We find it difficult to walk away from arguments or to ignore baiting because we know we have the power to answer. We also find it difficult to walk away from work for a day because we either worry about having to return to too much of it the next day, or we start obsessing over the power we have to engage. Some of it is more simply the fear of missing out, but for the most part, the XKCD comic is about our need to control situations and use our perceived power to constantly further our own ends. Laying those down for even a day is so difficult for some of us that it takes a commandment to even consider doing it. And most of the time, even though I have tried for a few years to abide by that commandment, it’s almost impossible for me to fully do so.
With that human failing in mind, today’s Gospel and readings have a profound statement about the nature of the Lord, and the repeated use of the word meek to describe him. Meek, like happiness, is another term that is often misunderstood. What exactly does it mean to be “meek”? It does not mean “powerless” or “subjugated,” or it didn’t at the time of Jesus. Part of the problem is that English does not have a single word which conveys Jesus’ meaning, which was certainly not that God is “powerless” or subjugated. According to Strong’s Concordance, the original Greek word used here was praus, which conveys a submission of one’s strength to the will of God and trust in his deliverance — or in this case, God’s own tempering of His justice to allow mercy.
In all cases, meek does still mean “mild, gentle,” but in this usage it does not mean powerless. Instead, it’s just the opposite. Jesus promises that the omnipotent Father loves us so much that He will show us mercy when we come to Him, and adopt His will freely in place of our own.
We hear a similar message in today’s first reading from Zechariah, who promises Zion “a just savior … meek, and riding on an ass.” Just how meek this savior will be is described in the very next sentence: “He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; the warrior’s bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations.” That is not the destiny of a powerless and subjugated man, but the mission of one in whom great power is invested. Rather than dominating the world, though, this savior comes to set it free — a great and selfless act of walking away from power in order to give the greatest benefit for all.
This gets to the very heart of the relationship that the Lord wants with each of us, and how He allows us to determine it. The omnipotent God could use that power to force us into subjugation and slavery, enforcing His will at all times, and making us little more than action figures on a papier-maché landscape. His love for us and His desire for our own happiness gets expressed in our freedom to choose for ourselves whether to accept or reject Him. Jesus did not come to Earth in power and might to overawe the world and force it to kneel to Him, even though that clearly was within His power. Instead, Jesus wooed the world, saying Come to me and I will give you rest; take my yoke upon you for I am meek and humble of heart.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes that we are called to take up this yoke as we lay down our own. “You are in the spirit,” Paul tells his readers, “if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him.” The Lord has given us this authority to choose freely, and to cling to our own will rather than cleave to His. Jesus promises in today’s Gospel that those who choose to embrace the Lord and welcome the Holy Spirit into our hearts will encounter the meek and humble Lord who wants us to become His children. We become that by emulating His own great mercy — first to Him, and then to all His brothers and sisters.
This is what is meant by the meek inheriting the Earth. It’s not that we must become powerless and subjugated, but that we willingly put aside our power and authority and leave those to the Lord’s own mercy and justice. We must put our trust in Him, not ourselves, if we are to find true happiness and joy. The Fourth Commandment tasks us with meekness one day out of the week as a start, a way to learn to live within our faith that should help us to grow in incorporating our faith through our entire lives. The Lord does so eternally for those who come to him, as weak and sinful as we are.
That’s easier said than done, of course. I got distracted several times during the writing of this reflection by various online conversations, some business issues, and other assorted shiny objects, just as one example of many. None of that holds anything like the promise of happiness in spending time in the Scriptures, but if someone is wrong on the Internet, well …
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.