Today’s Gospel passage must be one of the most frequently quoted, and commented on, and loved passages in the whole of St. Matthew. There’s a parallel to the first part - the blessing prayer - in St. Luke (10:21); but the second part - Come to me all you who labour - is reported by Matthew alone. This is the only time in this Gospel that we overhear Jesus turning to his Father in prayer, apart from two other brief moments: in Gethsemani (Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass me by), and on the Cross itself (Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani). Yet this brief moment is enough to let us glimpse the heart of Jesus’ inner life, his relationship with his Father, the meaning of his mission, and even the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
I bless you, Father, cries Jesus, for hiding and revealing these things: that is, the mysteries of the Kingdom, and the mystery of Jesus’ own identity. And here at once we are confronted by the strangeness of the Gospel. The message and the salvation brought by Jesus are not merely obvious. They are not conveyed unambiguously and unmistakably to everyone; and they are not received by everyone. Mysteries indeed: for everything about them seems to be upside down and back to front. As St. Paul puts it: in the light of Christ the wise are made foolish, and the foolish wise (cf. 1 Cor 3:18). Or, as Jesus says elsewhere, the last are made first, and the first last. So Jesus here rejoices that, in accordance with God’s will, and plan, only those receive salvation in him who are little, humble, powerless; not those who are proud, or who in their own eyes are clever and important; only those who have a heart that is open, not those whose heart is closed. These little ones are those who will exercise the virtue of faith, and the commitment of discipleship; not those who refuse to commit themselves in love and trust to Jesus.
Then we read on, and really we need to take our shoes off, because we are entering onto holy ground. Everything, says Jesus, has been entrusted to me by my Father. That is: all dominion and all power and all knowledge possessed by God the Father are entrusted, given, handed over to Jesus. But only God has the capacity to receive all that God has to give: so the Son must himself be divine, equal to the Father, though also standing always in relation to his Father as Son. No one knows the Son except the Father. St. Matthew does not mention the Holy Spirit here, although in his version St. Luke specifically says that these words were spoken in the joy of the Holy Spirit. But the Spirit is here alright, because it’s in the Holy Spirit that the Father knows the Son, just as he begets him in the Holy Spirit; and the Son knows the Father also in the Holy Spirit. As for divine revelation: that comes to us from the Son, through the Holy Spirit. It’s by the grace of the Holy Spirit alone that hearts are moved to hear Jesus, to accept him in faith, to be humble, to love. It’s also through the Holy Spirit alone that we are able to enter into the relationship Jesus has with his Father, to share his divine Sonship, and to be truly called ourselves Sons of God in the Son.
The text continues. Having claimed and established his divine status; effectively having said he is God, Jesus turns to his disciples, to those who hear him, to us. And what does he say? Does he proceed to address us as a terrifying figure of infinite power, utterly remote from us? No, on the contrary, he speaks to us as an intimate friend, as a source of comfort and consolation, as a mother. Come to me, all you who labour and overburdened, and I will give you rest. We note, incidentally, that even this is a claim to divine status; because so universal an invitation and promise could only be fulfilled by God. Sometimes crazy politicians try to make rather similar offers, and when they do you know you are in serious trouble, because all they can ultimately deliver is a bit more tyranny, either more or less oppressive.
But Jesus is no political tyrant. Meek and humble in heart, he truly does relieve us of our burdens, even now, and without fail. What burdens? Perhaps for his original Jewish audience there may have been some allusion here to the burdens of the Pharisaic law. But beyond all that, we all have burdens to carry in life: in the first place, the burdens of our sins. Then there are all our various afflictions, troubles, anxieties, pains, griefs, disappointments: we bring them all to Jesus, knowing that he has power to give us rest. Perhaps even we bring to him the burden of our doubt, or false beliefs, or even of unbelief itself, asking him to give us the gift and grace of faith. And he does so; though always on condition that we accept his terms: that we are willing to be humble and gentle in heart, as he is; that we take up his own yoke and burden, which is the life of discipleship; a life in communion with the three Persons of the Holy Trinity; a life directed, as is the life of Jesus, towards worship, towards praising, blessing and thanking God our Father for all his goodness, greatness and mercy without end.
In St. John’s Gospel, which is so like our brief passage in Matthew, coming to Jesus is always symbolic. It means approaching Jesus in order to get to know him, to stay with him, to believe in him, to receive life from him. In Chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel, the Bread of Life discourse, Jesus says: I will certainly not reject anyone who comes to me (37); and then a bit later: No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me (44); and again: That is why I told you that no one can come to me except by the gift of the Father (65).
So now we praise and thank God for this great gift he has given us, in drawing us to Jesus, in giving us his words of revelation and of life; in filling us with his Holy Spirit, who will conform our hearts, ever more and more, to the Heart of Jesus. And we accept his invitation to encounter Jesus now directly in the Eucharistic mystery. We come to him with faith and love, and we receive his Body given up for us, and his Blood poured out for us: in order that we might be one with him, and that we might abide with him forever.