Chapter 11: The Towns by the Lake and Simple People
We may often wonder why some refuse to believe despite the many saints and apparitions witnessed in our world. Does God reveal His salvific will only to a few chosen people or to everyone? Despite the many miracles of Christ, only simple people with a childlike faith accepted the Kingdom of Heaven. How then can we understand the theme of grace and special revelation and its relationship with conversion and faith? Today’s passage of the Gospel is a threat to the non-repentant and nonbelievers with the punishment of Hell, while promising rest for the weary and overburdened. If you are living through a time of weariness and preoccupations of all kinds, remember the words of St Augustine saying to us: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you!”
2- Reading and understanding the Gospel: Jesus denounces the Lake Towns (Mt 11:20-24)
The Father reveals His secrets to little children (Mt 11:25-30)
20Then he began to reproach the towns in which most of his miracles had been worked, because they refused to repent. 21 “Alas for you, Chorazin! Alas for you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22And still, I tell you that it will not go as hard on Judgment day with Tyre and Sidon as with you. 23And as for you, Capernaum, did you want to be exalted as high as heaven? You shall be thrown down to hell. For if the miracles done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have been standing yet. 24And still, I tell you that it will not go as hard with the land of Sodom on Judgment day as with you.”
25At that time Jesus exclaimed, “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. 26Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. 27Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. 29Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls! 30Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light”
2. 1- Explanation
These two successive passages from Matthew’s Gospel speak first of a grim picture for those who refuse to accept the message of Jesus and refuse to repent (Mt 11:20- 24), and a positive image of the revelation reserved by the Father for the simple and those wearied by the weight of their burdens (Mt 11:25-30).
The first passage (Mt 11:20-24) speaks of the bitter reality of the towns on Lake Tiberias whose inhabitants rejected the message of Christ. Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 4:23-25), we learn that Jesus preached in Galilee and that his fame spread across the country to such an extent that large crowds followed him. However, Jesus denounced his contemporaries for refusing him and for rejecting the message of John the Baptist, because they reckoned that John the Baptist was too austere in his life of abstinence and sacrifice, and deplored the fact that Jesus dined with sinners and tax collectors (Mt 11:16-19). In this context, the image is now clear: the towns of the lake did not repent despite the many miracles they had witnessed. Jesus is unusually harsh in his denunciation of the inhabitants of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, threatening them with Hell and eternal damnation. The goal of the miracles was to encourage repentance in the inhabitants of the three towns and offer them eternal life, but because of their refusal, they will be subject to harsh punishment. Note, however, that Jesus does give them a second chance and, in his great mercy, visits Capernaum and the Lake Tiberias towns again (Mt 14:14; Mt 17:24). The door to repentance is always open to believers.
The second passage (Mt 11:25-30) sets out a prayer and an invitation. The prayer of Jesus is an action of grace addressed to the Father. God, in fact, reveals His will to the little ones. Jesus is the Son of God and the only true revealer of his Father’s will. He entrusted the Church with the task of continuing after him to proclaim God’s love to humanity. The one who discovers, through the teaching of Jesus and the Church, the Father’s will and puts it into practice, will enter into the category of the simple little ones who can praise God, like the children who waved branches and cried Hosanna!, of whom it is said: “From the mouths of children, babes in arms, you have made sure of praise” (Mt 21:16). On the other hand, the wise and the clever are all those who know the Holy Scriptures and teach them to others, without putting them into practice, because they have made their traditions an add-on to the spirit of the Law, changing it into a very heavy yoke. Therefore, Jesus invites, in the second part (11:28-30), all those who struggle under the weight of the added laws, to take upon themselves his own yoke, that is, its easy and light teaching. It should not be believed that the teaching of Jesus is actually easier than that of the Pharisees; but if we want to live God’s will, we will not resort to hypocrisy and deceit, and will thus lead a simpler life, without pride and without feeling superior to others. Indeed, our weariness is caused by the weight of masks that hide the truth of the real person.
2. 2- Summary and Practice
Let us open our hearts to see the action of God in our life and in the world. The problem of Man is that he often forgets the frequent interventions of God in his life. The one who knows that God is present and active must convert, turn back towards God, while confessing his sins and harmonizing his life and his words. On the path towards baptism, let us seriously reflect on the theme of repentance; let us become engaged in the process of changing our hearts and minds and respond with renewed faith to the revelation of God’s love which we have experienced.
Jesus teaches us to praise the Father for His gifts and grace. Our prayer is not only about pleas and demands but is primarily focused on thanksgiving and worshipping God. Indeed, he who knows to give thanks to Him, will receive more and more blessings and graces!
Jesus, gentle and humble in heart, invites us to be like him. His humility made him become the Suffering Servant of God “He will not break the crushed reed, nor put out the smouldering wick” (Mt 12:20). One who humbles himself as Jesus did will be raised up; and he who welcomes the Kingdom like a child will be considered great in Heaven. The fact that we are doing our simple and small daily duties will help us to arrive at holiness. It is thus that the path of perfection was understood by St Thérèse of the Child Jesus, teaching us by her example “spiritual childhood”.
3- Theological and Spiritual Teaching: God reveals Himself to Humanity
When God created Heaven and Earth, He extended His hand towards humanity to reveal Himself to him, so that man could establish a personal relationship with God, built on faith. It is a great blessing for man to grasp the mystery of God, to get to know and love Him. The revelation of God began at the start of human history and continued right up to its peak, with the coming of Jesus Christ, Son of God and His definitive word. The Church continues to live this revelation in a way that is ever alive, understanding, day after day, the depth of God’s mystery and His treasures.
It is important to realize that God did not reveal Himself by sending ideas or philosophies, or by prefabricated words. Rather, His revelation was accompanied by His interventions throughout history. His great love is made manifest by the fact that His revelation accompanied the salvation which He offered to us. Indeed, if He had saved us without manifesting His identity, he would have saved us with “outside help”, as a rich man gives alms to a poor man, while staying away from him. God’s salvation comes rather by active participation on His part, for He adopted us by His Son, Jesus Christ. That’s why He really wants us to know Him, to love Him and establish a relationship of a child with his Father. On the other hand, had God revealed Himself without saving us, He would have appeared as someone transcending us, haughty and arrogant, and not caring about miserable condition. No revelation without salvation and no salvation without revelation! This is how God’s will and unlimited love for us are revealed.
God intervened in ancient times, spoke with Adam, Noah, Abraham and many others, and entered into an alliance with them. His interventions in history did not take place with any particular people, but the aim was the good of the chosen people, later to be spread widely all over the earth. The Exodus from Egypt happened thanks to the powerful arm of God and His accompaniment of His people day and night during their entire journey. Every time he intervened in history, he gave someone a special mission, explaining the goals to be achieved. “At various times in the past and in various different ways, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but ·in our own time, the last days, he has spoken to us through his Son” (Heb 1:1-2) With Jesus, the revelation was complete.
When Philip asked Jesus to show him the Father, Jesus responded: “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” The Prologue of John’s Gospel tells us: “No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus was the Word of God in his actions and his teachings, and in his entire life. It is for this reason that he called his disciples to live with him during his entire public ministry, so that they might see, hear, and touch, with their own senses, who God is. The culmination came when they saw him risen from the dead and glorified, and they realized that, thanks to the grace of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was of the same substance as God Himself, “full of grace and truth”.
The Church testifies to this experience to this day and transmits it from generation to generation. For all time, the Word of God in the Church has been a light for the faithful and guides them to establish a relationship with God which leads to life. Throughout the centuries, the Church has increasingly come to understand the revelation, and expresses it in her teachings and dogmas, illuminated especially through the books of the New Testament, the Gospels to the Apocalypse, which represent for her the heart of revelation, and to which she constantly refers to consolidate her faith.
4- Reading and Meditation: Reading from St Clement of Alexandria (c.214)
The Essence of Baptism
Being baptized, we are illuminated; illuminated, we become sons; being made sons, we are made perfect; being made perfect, we are made immortal. “I,” says He, “have said that you are gods, and all sons of the Highest.” This work is variously called grace, and illumination, and perfection, and washing: washing, by which we cleanse away our sins; grace, by which the penalties accruing to transgressions are remitted; and illumination, by which that holy light of salvation is beheld, that is, by which we see God clearly. Now we call that perfect which wants nothing. For what is yet wanting to him who knows God?
And he who is baptized and is enlightened, is delivered immediately from darkness, and on the instant receives the light.
As, then, those who have shaken off sleep immediately become all awake within; or rather, as those who try to remove a film that is over the eyes, do not supply to them from without the light which they do not possess, but removing the obstacle from the eyes, leave the pupil free; thus also we who are baptized, having wiped off the sins which obscure the light of the Divine Spirit, have the eye of the spirit free, unimpeded, and full of light, by which alone we contemplate the Divine, the Holy Spirit flowing down to us from above.
This is the eternal adjustment of the vision, which is able to see the eternal light … Repenting of our sins, renouncing our iniquities, purified by baptism, we speed back to the eternal light, children to the Father.13