Today’s Gospel passage, Matthew 11:25-30, begins with Jesus’ thanksgiving to His Father, who has revealed Him to the “little ones”: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although You have hidden these things from the wise and the learned You have revealed them to little ones” (Mt 11:25).
This thanksgiving comes immediately after Jesus has warned the unbelieving people of Capernaum: “If the miracles which were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon (two Gentile cities), long ago … they would have turned from their sins” (Mt 11:21).
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, Jesus wants the people of Capernaum to realize that their actions have repercussions: “[His words] denote freedom of judgment, because before a man is life and death” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew, 11:25).
At the same time Jesus thanks the Father for revealing Him to the “little ones.”? Thomas refers to an explanation of Augustine for the contrast with those who refuse to believe and the “little ones”:
God distributes His gifts in various ways, because He gives to some a docile heart and an inclination to act well; but this is not enough, unless there is an instructor. Again, sometimes there is an instructor, but the heart is hard; and just as in the former the facility to believe is not enough, so in the latter the hard heart is harmful (Commentary on Matthew, 11:22).
On this occasion, as Jesus customarily does, He addresses God as “Father.” Thomas considers that speaking to God in this way indicates Jesus’ own divinity: “Jesus is affirming both His own share in the divine nature as well as the authority of the Father; therefore He calls Him Father.”
However, Jesus teaches His disciples to call God “Father” as well. Is there a difference?
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus distinguishes between “My” Father and “your” Father. Jesus extends His personal relationship to God as “Father” to His disciples, yet He reserves a unique connotation of the relationship to Himself. For instance, Jesus describes Himself as “the Son,” in today’s passage as He does in other passages.
Jesus thanks the Father for His goodness. Thomas finds a reflection to Psalm 106:1: "Confess to the Lord, because He is good..."
Who are the “little ones”? Thomas understands them to be those, “who do not trust in their own wisdom.” Jesus said: "Unless you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 18:3). Paul likewise recognizes the contrast: "God has chosen the despised of this world to confound the strong" (1 Cor 1:27).
Thomas recalls two explanations of “little ones” by the Fathers of the Church. Augustine sees "the little ones," to be “the humble … those not presuming on themselves; for where humility is, there is wisdom.” For Hilary, they are the ones who simply seek God: "Seek Him in simplicity" (Wis 1:1).
The Father hides the identity of His Son from the “wise and the learned.” Paul describes their “wisdom,”: "Ignorant of God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness" (Rom 10:3). They are those who “claiming to be wise, they became foolish" (Rom 1:22).
Jesus announces: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him" (Mt 11:27).
In some cases, according to Thomas, God has not given the grace to believe: “He hides wisdom from the wise by not applying grace.” Paul speaks of those whom God allows to remain in their sin: “Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, He abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done” (Rom 1:28).
According to Thomas, we cannot know why God’s intervenes by grace in some cases while He allows others to remain in their sin. We only know that it is God’s “gracious will.” Thomas compares God’s way with the way a builder uses some stones in a foundation and others in the façade of the building, “why He put this one here and another there, the only cause is His will” (Commentary on Matthew, 11:26).
Jesus says, “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father” (Mt 11:27). Thomas considers this to be an indication of the equality between the Father and Son, “Note the equality, although the origin is from the Father.”
Thomas offers three senses of “all things.” The first is the “authority” that Jesus has been given by the Father: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mt 28:18). Another sense is that the elect are especially given to the Son: “Yours they were and You have given them to Me” (Jn 17:6). A third sense, according to Thomas, is an “intrinsic” sense, meaning, “every perfection of the Godhead”: "As the Father has life in Himself, so He has given to the Son to have life in Himself" (Jn 5:26) (Commentary on Matthew, 11:27).
Jesus declares “No one knows the Son except the Father” (Mt 11:27). Thomas comments: “… not only is He equal to the Father but also consubstantial. From the substance of the Father exceeds all understanding, since the very essence of the Father is said to be unknowable, as is the essence of the Son. Hence there the equality is noted” (Commentary on Matthew, 11:27).
Although the Gospels do not use metaphysical expressions such as “substance” or “essence,” the fundamental meaning of these words as applied to God can be found in the mutual relationship of “the Father” and “the Son.” Karl Rahner spoke of God as the “Incomprehensible One” but Jesus affirms that He knows the Father,
Jesus has already said that the Father reveals Him to the “little ones.” Because Jesus is the Son, He can reveal the Father: “For the Son knows by comprehension. Therefore, because He knows perfectly and is knowable, He has the power to reveal, as the Father has” (Commentary on Matthew, 11:27).
Jesus reveals the Father: “For manifestation is by means of a word: ‘Father, I have manifested Your name to men...’ (Jn 17:1; 1:18): ‘No one has ever seen God.’ But the Son knew Him; therefore, He could manifest Him” (Commentary on Matthew, 11:27).
Because Jesus has the “same power” as the Father, He calls people to Himself: “Come to Me” (Mt 11:28). Thomas affirms that this means, “Come to My blessings.”
Thomas notices the similarity of Jesus’ words with those of “Wisdom”: "Come to Me, you who desire Me, and eat your fill of My produce" (Sir 24:19). Some of the Wisdom books of the Old Testament personify “Wisdom,” that is, they describe Wisdom as a woman. Biblical scholars note that this personification of Wisdom provided the early Christians with a vocabulary with which to explain Jesus as the pre-existent revealer of the Father.
Jesus invites His listeners: “"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).
Thomas interprets Jesus’ invitation to mean: “Draw near to Me, you untaught, because I want to communicate Myself… Because without Me men labor too much…” (Commentary on Matthew, 11:28).
What is the burden that people bear? Thomas considers the burden to be the full Mosaic Law: “They labored under the yoke of the Law and commandments.” He supports this interpretation with the words of the Acts of the Apostles: “This is a burden which we neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10).
Thomas widens the meaning of this burden, “in general, to all who labor on account of human frailty … namely, with sins.” He recalls the words of the psalm: “My iniquities weigh like a burden too heavy for me” (Ps 38:4).
Jesus promises to give us “rest.” Jesus makes a similar invitation in John’s Gospel: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (Jn 7:37).
Jesus invites His listeners, “take My yoke upon you” (Mt 11:29). Thomas expresses a possible reaction: “But what is this? You say that You want to refresh us and lift our labor from us, and in the same breath You tell us to carry a yoke? We believed that it would not involve a yoke.”
Thomas affirms that we will be without “the yoke of sin,” which weighs us down, as Psalm 2 declares: “Let us cast off from us their yoke” (Ps 2:3).
What is Jesus’ “yoke”? Thomas answers: “the gospel lessons.” Why does Jesus call it a “yoke”? Thomas explains: “… just as a yoke fastens and joins the necks of oxen, so the doctrine of the gospel fastens the people to its yoke” (11:29). Paul states: “Freed from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness” (Rom 6:18).
Jesus instructs us: “Learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” Thomas professes: “The whole Law consists in two things: meekness and humility” (Commentary on Matthew, 11:29).
Thomas shows the importance of these two virtues: “By meekness a man is rightly ordered to his neighbor… By humility he is rightly ordered to himself and to God.” Thomas recalls the words of Isaiah: “This is the one upon whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at My word” (Is 66:2). Thomas reflects, “Hence humility makes a man capable of God.”
Jesus announces: “your souls will find rest.” When does the soul find rest? Thomas replies:
For the body is not refreshed, as long as it is afflicted, and when it is not afflicted any more, it is said to be refreshed. And just as hunger is to the body, so desire is to the mind; hence the achievement of desires is refreshing: ‘Who satisfies your desire with good’ (Ps 103:5). And this rest is a rest of the soul ((Commentary on Matthew, 11:29).
Jesus declares that His yoke is easy. Thomas is reminded of the words of Psalm 119: “How sweet are your words to my taste!" (Ps 119:103).
Jesus says that His burden is light. Thomas questions how the burden can be light when Jesus teaches a more interior observance of the commandments, e.g. not only not to kill but not even to be angry: “It seems that it is a heavier burden.”
Thomas explains that His yoke is light in its effects:
The doctrine of Christ is light in its effect, because it changes the heart, in as much as it makes us love not temporal but spiritual things. For the person who loves temporal things finds it more a burden to lose a little than a person who loves spiritual things to lose much… But now, even though it is burdensome in the beginning, after a while it is light (Commentary on Matthew, 11:30).
His yoke is also light in its actions because they are internal and not only external actions: “The Law imposed a burden of external acts. But our law is solely in the will; hence ‘the kingdom of God is not food and drink’” (Rom14:11).
Thomas acknowledges that the kingdom of God entails difficulties: “All who desire to lead a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Tim 3:12). Yet Thomas asserts that these difficulties are not burdens:
But they are not burdensome, because they are seasoned with the condiment of love; for when a person loves someone, it is not a burden to suffer anything for him. Hence love makes easy all difficult and impossible things. Therefore, if one loves Christ properly, nothing is difficult for him; consequently, the New Law does not impose a burden (Commentary on Matthew, 11:30).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
The quotations from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew translated by R.F. Larcher, O.P. The full text may be found on the web site of the Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C.: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/