Opening the Word: A lasting peace

Where can we acquire truth and real wisdom? Where can we find peace and rest? And where can we apprehend and possess authentic, lasting life?

These are questions that the ancient philosophers pondered and sought to answer, and they are the same essential questions facing us today. No matter how enlightened and up-to-date we think we are, the fundamental questions about the permanent things remain; for human nature remains the same, despite the passing of centuries.

Jesus addressed these questions with a combination of paradox and sharp clarity. First note that Jesus, in today’s Gospel, speaks in the form of a prayer to the Father: “Lord of heaven and earth.” Immediately prior (Mt 11:20-24), Jesus chastised, even condemned, several cities — including Capernaum, the base of his ministry in Galilee — in which he had performed great miracles and yet was rejected.

Having issued a dire warning to the careless “wise,” Jesus then offers a gracious invitation to the “childlike.” In distinguishing between the “wise and the learned” and the “childlike,” he draws upon the rich tradition of the Wisdom literature, which emphasizes how true wisdom is found in humility and fear of the Lord: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely” (Prv 3:5). This approach is not anti-intellectual, but anti-prideful; it recognizes that even great minds need to be guided by moral clarity. “Pride in knowledge and self-assertion make men unreceptive to grace,” notes Father Richard Gutzwiller in “Day by Day with St. Matthew’s Gospel.” “Humility is the necessary precondition for faith.”

In whom shall we trust? The one to whom all things have been handed over, the Son who knows the Father and reveals him to us. Jesus’ statement of self-revelation is so straightforward and assured, it nearly slips past us. It is a declaration of equality with the Father; it is, in short, a declaration of divinity. It is upon this foundation that the Son offers rest — real, lasting peace — to those “who labor and are burdened,” (Mt 11:28), who are overwhelmed and exhausted.

It brings to mind the description in T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” of Christ as the “wounded surgeon” who “plies the steel” and whose sacrificial efforts are aimed at “resolving the enigma of the fever chart.” Again, the Wisdom literature provides helpful background, as heard in the Responsorial Psalm: “The Lord lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.”

But, a yoke? How can an instrument of manual labor provide relief and rest? We must recognize that everyone serves a master; each of us will have to answer for what we do and choose. For the Jews, the law was the yoke taken up as their covenantal burden. What is the covenantal burden taken up by the Son? The Incarnation: becoming man, suffering and dying for our sake. “He who was divine yoked himself to us through his humanity,” explains Erasmo Leiva in “Fire of Mercy, Heart of the World” (Ignatius Press, $31.95). “When the Son’s yoke becomes ours as well, his incarnation becomes our divinization.”

Which brings us to authentic, lasting life. The rest offered by Christ is the divine life and everlasting beatitude given by the Father to the children of God. Wisdom, rest and life have a name, and it is Jesus.

Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report.