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‘I BLESS YOU, FATHER...’ (MT 11:25FF.)
In today’s reading St.Matthew gives us a summary of New Testament revelation. It comes as a prayer of joy, a heartfelt act of thanksgiving, a disclosure by Jesus of who Jesus is, and what his whole earthly mission is about. The evangelist is bringing us as close as possible to the person of Jesus, for we are listening to him talking about himself. It is very rare that he does talk about himself. He never told us that he was born in Bethlehem and brought up in Nazareth, what he did for a living, and why after all those years of living in the obscurity of a tiny village he had decided to take on a public life, nor what he felt was his preparation for such. He may well have told all these things to those closest to him-the Twelve-, but the evangelists did not tell us. Perhaps in the present episode he is telling us something of that background that only he knew.
The Unfolding Story
For the evangelist Matthew Jesus is like a new Moses. The old Moses had seen God face to face (Ex 33:7-11) and, he had given a law to the old people of God, having led them from slavery. Now the new Moses is founding the new people of God, giving them a law and is engaged on a universal mission of reconciliation and liberation. He was glorified on the Mountain (Mt 17) and experienced by the apostles as the unique Son of God. Matthew was writing for a community that would have known the Old Testament traditions and had lived them daily in their lives and prayers, absorbing it all every Sabbath day in their synagogues. For people not of a Jewish background- like ourselves- we have to learn it all in a similar way. We are being told by the evangelist how Jesus infinitely surpassed Moses, while at the same time belonging to the same historical and geographical and ethnic background- so familiar to the suffering Jews for centuries.
As we read or hear the texts together at Mass there are some things we recognize immediately. We all know what joy is, and what a blessing joy is- the opposite is sorrow and misery. We know what thanks is. We are saying it or intending to say it all the time. We know what disclosures are, and normally that such are happy surprises. When they bring an unexpected delight we exclaim: Oh! Just what I wanted. Or I never thought that…oh! Thanks! We share humanity, and in reading our text we share it with Jesus. But there are striking differences.
Who among us would describe ourselves as meek and humble of heart? Matthew addressing his Jewish audience knew that Moses was the meekest of men (Num 12:3), certainly not the weakest. He had faced the Pharaoh and all the dangers involved in that. We may have to revise our idea of meekness against this background. We think of Jesus cleansing the Temple, telling the Pharisees they were a brood of vipers. Do we find him lovable? Matthew has thought about that too. Come to me all you who labour and are heavy burdened! The Old Testament as interpreted then by the Pharisees was very demanding. Jesus takes issue with them. My Father is not like that. Let us take another approach. Humility is the guide to life; I know for I was born into it, he says. Who are all these powerful and imposing people who dictate the terms and limits of our freedoms?.
St. Paul helps us in today’s second reading. His language is peculiarly his own. To be unspiritual is basically to follow one’s own selfish interests in whatever domain. This leads to a lack of respect for oneself and to the abuse of others, pursuing ends for which converts were once ashamed. It is all about upright and selfless conduct like Christ’s. The opposite is reported day by day in our media. The seven deadly sins would be a perfect summary of them: pride, covetousness lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth. That more or less covers every human attitude that leads to dire consequences. To recognize these sins and deal with them successfully involves a life of prayer and goodness that comes as a gift. This with St.Paul we call grace. Believers will certainly never boast about their goodness, hoping always that they may be able to keep it up.
It has been suggested that the saying of Jesus today is a ‘hidden parable’. In the Middle East in the bazaars were and are little family businesses, specialising in items of ceramics or furniture, and involving all the members of the family. The father is the overall controller; each single member of the family will be responsible for one aspect of the items being produced: one will produce the wood, or the clay, another will refine it, another will add decorations, another will care for the display and so on. Only the father knows the whole picture. He is the person who takes responsibility for the entire production, and he knows what it is all about. When he retires he discloses all of this to his oldest son. This is not a world of protected patents. It is all in the family. None knows the son except the father and none knows the father except the son- and those to whom he chooses to reveal it. The product is safe. The future is secure- and to get in on the act one has to be specifically introduced, and live by the terms necessary for success. The Church is a family. What we follow and accept we have received. What we do has been given to us according to our capacity. But one thing is sure: humility is the guide to life. This is the capacity to say thanks, to thank God for everything and to be thankful to those with whom we make our journey….the eucharistic community what we do Sunday by Sunday in this chapel. We have received our values from elsewhere-we did not create them. Without each other we cannot honour them.
Was this what Our Lord was saying: I thank you heavenly Father for having revealed all these things…to little children?
A happy Sunday to you all. Amen
Rev Richard J. Taylor.
Boarbank Hall, Cumbria, UK