Today’s gospel passage deals with a question which early Christian communities frequently discussed: why do some people have faith and others don’t?
Those who believed in the presence of the risen Jesus in their lives looked at reality in a different way from those who simply thought of this itinerant preacher as a dead Jewish prophet: someone who obviously believed the message he preached, died for his convictions, but was no longer around. Non-believers were convinced that believers were simply fantasizing when they spoke about their mentor in the present tense, and even went so far as to attempt to imitate his dying and rising.
Those who thought of themselves as “other Christs,” for instance, would hear today’s words of Zechariah and apply them to the life and ministry of Jesus. Though all Jews believed this post-exilic prophet was describing an ideal future king - someone powerful enough to destroy all Israel’s enemies and bring peace even to the country’s capital - Christians were certain Zechariah had the non-violent Jesus of Nazareth in mind when he spoke about this king’s “dominion (being) from sea to sea.” Those who gave themselves over to carrying on Jesus’ ministry were convinced the world could be definitely changed only by love, not by brute force. Though everyone longed for peace, Christians were dedicated to a rather unique way of bringing it about.
What stopped other people from sharing their beliefs?
Paul believed this difference in vision revolved around the Holy Spirit’s presence in the lives of Jesus’ followers. “You are not in the flesh,” the Apostle reminds the community in Rome. “On the contrary, you are in the spirit.” He goes on to explain, “Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. . . . For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
Christians believe they have a different source of life than non-believers: the same Spirit which enlivens the risen Jesus. This divine force enables them to see reality through different eyes. Though most humans see things in 2-D, disciples of Jesus see them in 3-D. They surface a dimension which others don’t even know exists. Paul believes no one can pull this off by themselves.
Matthew’s Jesus carries the uniqueness of Christian believers one step further. In composing their gospels, both Matthew and Luke copied from a writing no one’s seen for at least 17 centuries: a scroll containing sayings of Jesus which scholars simply refer to as the “Q.” The first verses of today’s gospel pericope comes from that lost document, especially the line thanking God for “hiding these things from the wise and learned and revealing them to the childlike.” This saying was important enough to have been written down and saved by some of Jesus’ first followers, and later copied into two of our four gospels.
All who “labor and are burdened” are constantly look for rest. Christians find that rest in their Jesus-imitating service of others. Though the risen Jesus puts an easy yoke and light burden on his followers, he reserves that burden and yoke for the “childlike.” Only those who approach life with a child’s open-minded personality can expect to notice God working in their lives. The “wise and the learned” often close their minds and eyes to the new things God is constantly accomplishing.
The Q document’s Jesus is convinced that only people open to life’s daily “newness” will ever develop a faith which permits them to experience God and the risen Jesus in their lives; an aspect of belief which the true faithful have never lost.