Matthew 11, 25-30
This Sunday’s gospel is brief but exceedingly rich in meaning. It has two distinct, though related, parts. In the first, Jesus expresses profound gratitude to the Father, source of all being and goodness, because he has freely chosen to take note of the little ones. He has done so by giving them a share in his divine wisdom, while withholding it from the “wise and learned.” This certainly does not mean that God despises learning but rather that the learned are too often tempted to pride, and thus closed to God’s gift.
When Jesus says that “these things” are revealed only to the humble and unassuming, he is referring to the revelation that he received from the Father and now offers to all of us. This revelation is nothing less than a message about the real meaning and purpose of our lives. And since it concerns how we love and serve and forgive, it is hidden from those who want to control life by means of their human knowledge, rather than to subordinate that knowledge to the higher wisdom of love and generosity. It is only in this way that one can come to know Jesus as the one who reveals the wisdom and the gift of the Father.
In the second segment, Jesus reminds us that accepting his wisdom of loving service will indeed mean submitting to the yoke of discipline and sacrifice. But it will be a sweet yoke, first of all because we bear it with Jesus, and then because it is a burden that has meaning since it is carried with love.
Those who devote their lives to scholarship have often taken a dim view of religion and in many cases have rejected faith altogether. They see religion as an enemy of real learning and useful only for those who have not yet been “liberated” by knowledge. Too often the children of deeply religious parents, when sent to secular universities, end up with no faith at all. Today’s gospel speaks directly to this issue. Jesus is not condemning human learning, even at the highest level, but he is saying that human wisdom will always be trumped in the long run by divine wisdom. This is not a defeat for human wisdom because it was never meant to have the last word.
Jesus heard this “last word” from his Father, creator of all the things that scholars study. He has passed it on to us, by word and by deed, and it tells us that we are called to freedom and then to loving service. Human learning can co-exist quite easily with this wisdom; in fact, it will be greatly enhanced by discovering how much is beyond its comprehension, for this too is an important part of learning. For that reason, all colleges and universities should include a strong religious element in their curriculum. And it is for that reason also that Catholic institutions of higher learning should be supported because it is there that the claims of divine wisdom can be discussed at the graduate level and without prejudice.
And so the “little ones” in today’s gospel are not those who are ignorant, much less anti-intellectual. Rather, they are those who are learned enough to know that human beings are not divine and therefore need to be open to the gift of God’s wisdom. This liberation from a false ideal of knowledge without limits will help all of us to lighten our yoke when life turns mysterious and the gift of God is all that really matters.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.