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Gentle and lowly of heart

Matthew 11:25-30

The words with which Jesus thanks the Father for having revealed the Good News to babes rather than to the wise are introduced in the Greek text in a strange and obscure way: “At that time Jesus declared...”. There is no question that our translation has eliminated the verb “to reply”, but we nevertheless wonder to whom and how Jesus was replying.He was replying to the events of life which called upon his faith and he did so by praying. And his prayer becomes an answer to that bitterness, failure and incomprehension of his work – he, the Son of man, was considered to be a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners – as testified to in a few preceding verses which end with his castigation of the cities that had seen his miracles and had failed to believe (cf. Mt 11:19-24).

“Christ et pauvres”, Georges Rouault (1935)

That Jesus lays himself before the Father enables him to accept what has happened, however bitter and contradictory it may be, and to recognize in it a path of love and obedience which breaks through every recrimination and lament. Only in this way can he rediscover the sign of God’s action and give thanks. Prayer as a response involves Jesus in a relationship of obedience and denotes him as gentle and lowly of heart. It is not so much one of his personal characteristics as, rather, a revelation of God’s action and being. And Jesus, the gentle and lowly of heart, wishes to mould in the same manner the children who run from all sides to listen to him.

Jesus transmits very forcefully what has been given to him by the Father so that they may be his disciples. First of all he calls them to a renunciation of their own will and a readiness to follow him, to stand behind him among the heavy burdens and exhaustion of life: “Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden”. He then invites them to learn at his school: “Learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart”. A gentle person does not start off as such: human and Christian life, community life, as it moves on carrying others, looking at them close up in the mystery of a vocation, generate mildness in us day after day; this produces patience, and patience is a proven virtue, perseverance, and the proven virtue hope (cf. Rom 5:3-4). Lastly, with deeply comforting words, Jesus asks people to go to him with trust, because he is that teacher who does not load anyone with unbearable burdens: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me… and you will find rest for your souls”. Where are joy and rest? Where is this ease and lightness?

In a writing by William of Saint-Thierry commenting on this text we read, in words by the Lord set on his lips: “You groan and complain beneath my yoke, you wear yourself out beneath my burden, but it is love which gives my yoke gentleness and my burden lightness [...]. Do you want love? Well, you have taken the path that leads to life: if you do not stray from this path you will reach the destination you desire. I walk before you, you have only to walk in my footsteps. I have laboured, I have resisted: do the same, for you too it is necessary to labour. I have borne many sufferings: you too must suffer something. The way that leads to love is obedience. Stick firmly to this point and you will arrive. Know that love is an immense treasure, it is worth spending the whole of the price necessary to acquire it. Yes, God is love: when you will have arrived at love you will no longer labour…. I will help you to bear your toil, it is I who have borne it until now and so far, it is I who will carry it further”. (from Meditazione alla preghiera, Edizioni Qiqajon).

In obedience, in patience that is born from trust, we can experience rest at the very heart of the labour which exists and which remains with us; we may succeed in experiencing undeniable lightness and gentleness even when we are harnessed to a yoke chosen freely and out of love, the yoke which the Lord himself bore, and we may savour the bliss he promised: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”.

The Sisters of Bose




St. Peter’s Square

Feb. 29, 2020