My Dear People,
Here we are privileged to listen as Jesus addresses his Father in prayer. This is a rare opportunity for readers in Matthew. Only twice more will we hear the Messiah speaking intimately with the Father—when he surrenders himself to suffering in Gethsemane (26:39,42) and when he offers his life on the cross (27;46).
With the words “At the time,” Matthew introduces the prayer by placing it in the context of what precedes. It shows us that even as Jesus is rejected by many, he is received by some, and this is sufficient reason to praise God.
Jesus addresses his prayer to the Father, probably using the Aramaic Abba (as Mark 14:36). It implies intimacy and familiarity such as a child would have with his parents. The address itself is not new, insofar as the Lord had long been revered as the “Father” or Israel. But evidence does not seem to indicate that Jews regularly invoke God as Father in either private or public prayer, Jesus however, almost always refers to God as Father (see. 7:21; 10:32; 12:50, etc., and Biblical Background sidebar “Calling God Father”.
Using the form of a Jewish prayer of thanksgiving, Jesus praises the Lord of heaven and earth for the favors he has. The one who speaks for the Father, though concealed from the wise and the learned of the day, has been revealed to Jesus’ followers, whose open acceptance of him shows them to be childlike in their receptivity to the gospel (18:4). Thanks to God’s gracious and elective will, these “little ones” (10:42) who form the community of Christian disciples have come to know more about Jesus than the religious scholars who oppose the kingdom of heaven, namely the scribes (9:3) and Pharisees (9:4). The disciples’ willingness to embrace the mystery of Jesus has nothing to do with their intelligence or level of education, rather, they are recipients of a grace that comes from the Father in heaven.
The final line of the prayer serves as a revelation to the reader. All things, Jesus says, have been given over to him from the Father. The meaning of this statement is not explained, but looking back over the Matthean storyline thus far, one may surmise that it refers to the divine authority that Jesus wields in the world. He possesses teaching authority that ranks him above Moses (5:21-46); he displays healing authority to cure sicknesses and cast out demons in an instant; and he is vested with spiritual authority to forgive the sins of others at will (9:1-8).
Even more remarkable is the relationship Jesus claims to have with the Father. His very identity as the Son in the absolute sense is defined in relation to the Fatherhood of God. The disciples are invited to know and embrace God as their Father: they are those to whom the Son wishes to reveal him (see 5:16; 6:1<4,6,8, etc.). But there is a real qualitative difference between the sonship of believers and the Sonship of Jesus. Disciples can come to know the Father through the Son, by the grace of divine revelation, but the Son knows the Father in a totally unique way. The mutual divine knowledge of the father and the Son would have remained hidden from us forever were it not for the will of the Father (v.26) and the Son (v.27) to reveal each other to the world.
Jesus shifts from addressing the father to addressing the world of potential disciples. Come to me is Jesus’ invitation to all who have toiled and become tired in spirit. He invites them into a personal and rewarding relationship with him. In the context of Jesus’ ministry, those who are burdened are probably those who are struggling to bear up under the demands of the scribes and Pharisees, who “tie up heavy burdens [hard to carry] and lay them on people’s shoulders” (23:4).
The benefit of answering Jesus’ call is spiritual rest. This is more than a promise of everlasting repose in the life to come. It is also a promise of inner peace in this life, the kind of peace that quiets the mind and heart and surpasses human understanding (see Phil 4:7). Of course, the followers of Christ will continue to experience frustration, trials and suffering, but these burdens become lighter and more bearable with the Lord’s help.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Vincent Clemente