In contrast to much of what Christians say in the public square in our time, the rabbi from Nazareth did not just stand in the city center with his finger wagging at sinners but invited us all (sinners all) to “find rest for your souls.” What a relief!
Can we preach the lightness of burden on this day? Can we turn the scratchy music of our public discourse toward a soothing melody of ease? I wager that we all need it. Daily assaults of bad news tend to harden our hearts. The Good News is a party invitation to join the communities of joy all over the world in which people have heard the call to dance.
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
The gospel of Matthew presents Jesus as a rabbi teaching the community how to live (and especially how to interpret Torah) in light of the coming of the Realm. The community to whom Matthew wrote was likely a Matthean synagogue in conflict with a traditional pharisaic synagogue over the issue of who is the faithful interpreter of the traditions of Israel. Matthew did not want his group to break away from Judaism but to regard their life and mission as an authentic expression of Judaism. This theme comes to expression in today's passage.
Matthew 11:2–15 claims that Jesus is God's agent in bringing about the apocalypse and the Realm. Matthew 11:16–19 explains that many people in Matthew's day did not respond positively to this claim. Jesus (and the Matthean synagogue) played the flute, so to speak, but few people danced. Many people were imperceptive: They could recognize neither John the Baptist (an authentic prophet) nor Jesus (the agent of the Realm).
In 11:25–30, the Matthean Jesus then establishes himself as transmitting authentic perspectives from God. I recollect hearing 11:25–27 described as a “meteor from the Johannine universe that has landed in Matthew.” However, this material is easily explained within apocalypticism, as the latter theologians believed that God had hidden the details of the apocalypse and would reveal them only in the last days. 11:28–30 establishes Jesus as the interpreter of such things by using language familiar from the wisdom tradition (see Sirach 51:26–27).
The yoke was a rabbinic figure of speech for obedience to Torah. The community is faithful to God and to Judaism by taking upon them. . . Jesus' interpretation of Torah and the divine purposes through the apocalypse as presented in Matthew. To be sure, the faithful life can be difficult (e.g. Matt. 5:11–12), but it eventuates in “rest,” that is, in full acceptance in the eschatological Realm. – Ronald J. Allen
The community that produced Zechariah 9—14 lived after the return from exile and had grown disillusioned with the attempts to restore the land of Israel. They believed that the priestly effort to restore the temple was self-serving. . . In order for God to be just, God would have to create a new world through direct intervention.
Zechariah. . . depicts God as a divine warrior who is about to bring about the “day of the LORD,” the moment when God would intervene and restructure the social world. A conquering monarch (in this case, God) who entered a city on a donkey signaled intentions of peace. God intends to end violence and war and will establish peace (shalom, total well-being) among all nations. . . – Ronald J. Allen
The conflicts so poignantly voiced in this passage are the conflicts of the gentile self in the grip of idolatry. The term law here sometimes refers to Torah and the gentile inability to live by it (7:21b) but sometimes refers to a specialized use of the term in apocalyptic literature to denote the condemnation of gentiles (7:21a, 23a, 23b; cf. 4 Ezra 7:20–24). – Ronald J. Allen
Ronald J. Allen is professor of preaching and New Testament at Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, Indiana.
Homily Service 41, no. 3 (2008): 90-98.