Reflecting on Matthew for the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Matthew, by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, commenting on Matthew 11:28

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Jesus shifts from addressing the Father to addressing the world of potential disciples. Come to me is Jesus’ invitation to all who have toiled and become tired in spirit. He invites them into a personal and rewarding relationship with him.

In the context of Jesus’ ministry, those who are burdened are probably those who are struggling to bear up under the demands of the scribes and Pharisees, who “tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders” (23:4).

The benefit of answering Jesus’ call is spiritual rest. This is more than a promise of everlasting repose in the life to come. It is also a promise of inner peace in this life, the kind of peace that quiets the mind and heart and surpasses human understanding (see Phil 4:7). Of course, the followers of Christ will continue to experience frustration, trials, and suffering, but these burdens become lighter and more bearable with the Lord’s help.

The invitation includes a summons to bear the yoke of Jesus. This is a call to discipleship, to submit oneself to the instruction of the Messiah. Disciples are bidden to learn from Jesus not only by heeding his words but also by imitating his life, which is a perfect incarnation of his words. Only in Christ is the message and the messenger one and the same. He who preaches the importance of being “meek” (5:5) is also he who shows us what it means to be meek (see also 21:5).

Finally, Jesus declares that his yoke is easy, his load is light. In the biblical world, a load-bearing yoke was a curved beam laid across the back of the neck and shoulders with chains or suspension ropes at each end. Peasants used them for hoisting and carrying heavy objects. No doubt this was backbreaking work. Given this background, it is worthwhile to consider why Jesus would speak of his tutelage as an easy yoke. Most likely, it is a creative way of saying that discipleship is not effortless, but neither is it an exhausting burden.

© 2010 Curtis Mitch, Edward Sri, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.