Matthew 11: The List and The Yoke

One of the things I’ve been nudged back toward is actually reading the Bible – not just the daily mass readings, which are sort of a highlight reel of the whole thing – but going through the New Testament in order. The fact that I’m only on Matthew 11 shows that this new resolution is not going terribly well. But it’s plenty interesting. Don’t believe me? Here, come with me for a minute. Three interesting points in a chapter. (Tease: third point is the best.)

Chapter 11 of Matthew is not one of those “everybody knows this one” chapters like John 3 or I Corinthians 13. Basically, Jesus has just finished prepping the apostles in Chapter 10 to get out there and do the same stuff he’s been doing – take nothing with you, preach and heal, people are going to hate you, get going.

In 11, Jesus is back to work, healing and preaching, and John the Baptist’s disciples come and ask him whether he’s the Messiah, or if they should look for another (JtB is in jail at this point, not yet beheaded.)

Jesus doesn’t say yes. He doesn’t say no. Here’s what he says: you guys go tell John what you see and hear.

-the blind can see

-the lame can walk

-the lepers are clean

-the deaf can hear

-the dead are brought back to life

-the Good News is preached to the poor

-those who believe in me are happy.

Uh, that last one? That sounds pretty dippy. I’m reading the Good News Translation, because it’s written in informal language (and it’s only the New Testament, so lighter to carry around.) When I check and see what more formal translations say, I get “Blessed is the one who does not fall away on account of me.”

That sounds more church-y, but what exactly does that mean?

So, in the Greek, it says something like “Blessed are those who aren’t *scandalized* by me.”  That’s a long way from “those who believe in me are happy.” All that awesome stuff is happening, and the hurdle the people who see it have to go over is “don’t be scandalized by the guy at the center of the frame.” 

That’s interesting point one.

So then Jesus talks to the crowd, saying “What did you expect to see out here in the middle of nowhere?” He says some other interesting stuff I can’t get into right now, before dissing the towns where all this stuff happened, because they saw it all and “did not turn from their sins.”

Which sins? I mean, is there a list?

The formal translations say they “didn’t repent.” Francis of Assisi (you knew I’d sneak him in, right?) talked about “doing penance.” But the Greek word, metanoia, means a changing of the heart. Sure, that’s a turning away from something. But it’s a turning *toward* something as well. You see all the stuff that’s happening, you hear Jesus’ message and aren’t scandalized by how he doesn’t fit the script, your heart should change – away from what pulls you from love of God and neighbor and toward those twin loves.

That’s interesting point two.

So, THEN Jesus gets to the part of the chapter you’ve actually heard: “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in Spirit; and you will find rest. For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.”

I just spent some time thinking about burnout, so this is clearly a message that has an audience. But before you take it to mean you can chillax, go back up to that list of dashes that point to what Jesus is in the center of: 

-the blind can see

-the lame can walk

-the lepers are clean

-the deaf can hear

-the dead are brought back to life

-the Good News is preached to the poor

-those who believe in me are happy. (Well, some people aren’t scandalized by me, how about?)

Does doing all that sound like an easy load? Does being responsible for all that sound like a light burden? Would doing all that tire you out? 

It would sure tire me out. And I think of a lot of the friends who are struggling with exhaustion and burnout; their to-do lists, at least in their minds, are no less ambitious.

So this is the third point, and I didn’t realize it until I read the whole chapter together. That bulleted list is In. The. Passive. Voice. (I only took one year of Greek, but I’m pretty sure it’s true there, too.)

What makes Jesus’s burden light is not that he’s doing nothing. Nor is it that He’s doing easy stuff. It’s that He’s not doing it alone. All those things happen in partnership, human and divine together.

We could probably learn from that. “Work as if everything depends on God; pray as everything depends on you,” is the opposite of what we say to each other, but it’s closer to what St. Ignatius of Loyola actually said. A key to not burning out, for many, is recognizing the twofold good news that 1) there is a God and 2) you aren’t him.

See, not bad for an anonymous chapter in Matthew, right?

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