“I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do.” (Matthew 11:25-26) In Jesus’ short prayer, he addresses God not only as ‘Father’ but also as ‘Lord of heaven and earth,’ that is, as the God of all Creation, the God who unfolds all things according to his plan and design, as it pleases him to do, the only God. Here it pleases God to reveal ‘these things’ not to the ‘learned and the clever’ but to ‘mere children’ (his children) and by which is meant that to know what is revealed here does not depend on human wisdom, on being clever, and on education. Just what ‘these things’ are is not clear here, but a little later Jesus says to his disciples, to those whom he refers to as ‘little ones’ and ‘least brothers of mine’ (Matthew 10:42; 25:40, 45), “The mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven are revealed to you, but they are not revealed to them.” (Matthew 13:11)
The secret that is not discoverable through the best of human wisdom and learning, is of the presence of the Kingdom. (Matthew 11:25-26) St Matthew gave us a hint of this right at the beginning of his Gospel: when the magi came enquiring about the whereabouts of the infant king of the Jews, we were told, ‘When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem’ (Matthew 2:3) — they didn’t know about it! (1 Corinthians 2:6-8) For all their learning, they could say only that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem. By deliberate design, the presence of the Kingdom was hidden to them; it is knowable only in and through being with the King’s Son. (Matthew 4:17) That is, this knowledge is not owned and controlled by some elite (C.f.: John 7:49), but can be found by all who are willing to come and place their simple trust in Jesus. (C.f.: Matthew 11:28; 2:2; Luke 1:15) It is out of wonder at such a love that would reveal this knowledge to all (John 3:16), from the least to the greatest, that the Son offers his praise to his Father, the Lord of heaven and earth, the only God. (Matthew 11:25)
There is a fly in this ointment: “No one knows the Son except the Father,” says Jesus. (Matthew 11:27) Thus, the people of his day had to wrestle with the question of who he is: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” as Mark’s Gospel put it. “None of the rulers of this age understood this,” says St Paul, “for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory’ (1 Corinthians 2:8) Indeed, no one knows the Son except the Father! So, Jesus’ question to his disciples becomes the more telling: “But you, who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:15-18) We might say: “No one knows the Son except the Father … and those to whom the Father chooses to reveal him” (C.f.: John 6:44), and on this revelation is built our Church; this, too, is part of the unfolding of God’s plan.
This Jesus says to us: “Come to me.” (Matthew 11:28. C.f.: John 1:39) And those who did, say: “Come and see.” (John 1:47; 4:29) Jesus’ invite is to those who ‘labour and are overburdened’ (Matthew 11:28), to those wearied by life’s burdens — much as Benedict has the Lord call out: “Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days?” (Rule of St Benedict Prologue:15) We are called to put aside our disinclination born of weariness, and come and hear what he has to say for ourselves. (John 1:46; 4:41-42) We are urged to get in touch with our desire and burnish it a little, that it might move us to go and see. “Come to me,” says Jesus, “and I will refresh you.” (Matthew 11:28) This is often translated as, ‘and I will give you rest,’ as though what is on offer is a cessation from all our toil. But Jesus does not speak rest, but of ‘shouldering his yolk’ and ‘learning from him’ and ‘taking up his burden’ (Matthew 11:29-30) — even a casual reading of his earlier Sermon on the mount will reveal that what Jesus is asking of his followers is quite demanding and no rest from toil. What Jesus is offering is not rest from toil, but that which will enable his worker to go back to his task with renewed vigour. (Matthew 5:18)
‘Yolk’ is a metaphor for God’s Law. (c.f.: Rule of St Benedict 58:10, 16) Jesus says of himself, “My aim is to do not my will, but the will of him who sent me.” (John 5:30) His yolk is to do God’s will, to keep God’s Law (c.f.: Matthew 5:18) — that which those to whom he says, “Come to me,” have found wearisome and hard to bear, but which Jesus evidently does not! (Matthew 23:4; 11:30) The difference can only lie in what Jesus says of his relationship with God: “No one know the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son.” (Matthew 11:27) ‘The Father loves the Son’ (John 3:35) and the Son know this. (Mark 1:11) This makes all the difference, for the Son does the Father’s will as a way of returning his love; this he wants to do. (John 5:19ff) This Jesus, who says, “Come to me,” is offering to teach us how to come to know God as he does, as ‘a Father who loves us’ (c.f.: Rule of St Benedict Prologue:1, 5): “No one know the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him,” says Jesus. (Matthew 11:27)
Coming to know this, we, too, will “arrive at that perfect love of God that casts out fear,” as St Benedict puts it. He continues, “Through this love, all that we once performed with dread, we will now begin to observe without effort, as though naturally, from habit, no longer out of fear of hell, but out of love for Christ, good habit and delight in virtue.” (Rule of St Benedict 7:67-69) Here is the ‘rest’ that refreshes and enables us to get on with doing what we want to do without it wearing us down because it is too burdensome, that which Jesus speaks of as making ‘his yolk easy and his burden light.’ (Matthew 11:28, 30) If we are willing to come to Jesus and learn from him (and all are welcome), we, too, can learn to carry just as lightly the burden of doing God’s will. So, Benedict urges us: “Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It’s bond to be narrow at the outset. But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our heart’s overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.” (Rule of St Benedict Prologue:48-49) That is, the promised ‘rest’ that refreshes is to be discovered … in the ‘school of the Lord’s service’ (Rule of St Benedict Prologue:45): “Come to me, and learn from me,” says the Lord. (Matthew 11:29)