“At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure” (Matthew 11:25-26).
Jesus prays a prayer of praise. We marvel as we read it; it seems that Jesus rejoices because God has concealed truth from the educated and revealed it to small children. Does Jesus rejoice when some people just don’t understand? I suggest that he does not. Later in this context, he will say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt. 11:28-30). Jesus invites people to learn; he does not despite education. The prompting for this prayer of praise lies in preceding verses.
People have rejected messengers of God in earlier parts of Matthew 11. Even John the Baptist, now in prison, has sent messengers to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus answers John’s question by telling the messengers to report back to John what they seen and heard while visiting Jesus. Then Jesus speaks to the crowds about the reasons people had rejected first John, and then him as messengers of God. John was too ascetic; Jesus partied with the wrong people. They dismissed John as possessed by a demon. They labeled Jesus as a drunkard and a glutton. Jesus then denounces three cities where he had performed most of his miracles because they had not repented. He says that even Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom will fare better on the day of judgment than Chorazin, Capernaum, and Bethsaida.
Many rejected first John, and then Jesus, as messengers of God. Jesus’ prayer grows out of this rejection and the way in which that negative response, often coming from more sophisticated and elite members of society, had been balanced by acceptance by the “little children” – the helpless, the disenfranchised, the disdained members of society. They had had the humility to perceive how the messages of John and Jesus applied to them. Whether Roman Soldiers, tax collectors, prostitutes, or lepers, they recognized John as the precursor of the Messiah, and Jesus as himself the Messiah of God.
This prayer and the invitation that follows it teach three important themes: God is in control, no one comes to him except through Jesus, and humanity has freedom to make choices. God the Father is “Lord of heaven and earth.” He controls all. As Craig Keener pointed out in the 2009 edition of his Commentary on Matthew, “Jesus alone is in a position to declare exactly what God is like.” Jesus invites “all who are weary and burdened.” The nature of the invitation suggests that we may follow the elite of Jesus’ time and reject learning from Jesus because we consider ourselves too educated, too privileged, or too (post) modern to need such assistance. We also may accept and find rest for our souls.
O God, our father, Lord of heaven and earth, grant us the humility to see ourselves as we are. Our weariness crushes us as technology allows us to work in darkness and self-imposed deadlines create stress. Our education, which helps us to understand so much of the world around us, sometimes hardens us against our needs for forgiveness, acceptance, and community. You, O God, define reality. You gave us a glimpse in Jesus of what it looks like when a person lives it. Help us to hear your invitation, and to obey. We want to learn from Jesus. In His name, Amen.