The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvilly’s commentary on Matthew 11:28-30

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 13, 2014

Mat 11:28 Come to me all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.

“Come to Me,” approach Me, with the proper dispositions of faith, hope, devotion, &c., with a desire to observe all My precepts, who am equal to the Father in all things, the Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, to whom all things were delivered by My Father, having, therefore, at My disposal the dispensation of every good gift, including the perfect liberation from all evils incident to human life; “all you that labour,” &c., groaning under the intolerable burden of sin, and its concomitant evils, viz., the tyranny of concupiscence and your corrupt passions, the remorse of conscience, and the dread of the fearful punishments of sin; and who, moreover, are groaning under the yoke of the Mosaic law.

“And I will refresh you.” The Greek word for “refresh” (αναπαυσω = anapauso), means, rest, cessation from trouble. Hence, the words signify: I will grant you respite and rest; respite from your temporal miseries, and vexatious sufferings, which I shall temper for you, by granting you grace to bear them patiently; rest, from the burdensome uneasiness ever attendant on sin, and the consequent remorse, with dread of punishment, by remitting them; rest, also, from the intolerable yoke of Mosaic ceremonies, which neither you nor your fathers, could bear (Acts 15:10). So that all are sweetly invited, without exception: Gentiles, whose burden of temporal miseries He alleviates, whose sins, both as to guilt and eternal consequences, He remits; and Jews, whom, in addition to the foregoing benefits, He frees, from the galling yoke of the Mosaic ceremonial law.

Mat 11:29 Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: And you shall find rest to your souls.

“Take My yoke upon you.” “My yoke,” in opposition to the yoke of the Mosaic law; and the heavy yoke of sin, concupiscence, and its consequences, under which you have been hitherto groaning, placed on your shoulders by your former spiritual taskmasters.

“My yoke,” which you will not be left to bear alone, which I shall help you to carry. “My yoke,” which I bore before you, and gave you an example to carry. By “yoke,” is meant the law of the Gospel in all its parts, called a “yoke,” because, like every other law, it binds us to certain duties, and forbids us to transgress certain limits. It is also called a “burden,” because, we are obliged to bear it, to live according to it, and to fulfil it. It consists in bringing the Intellect into the captivity of faith, and the Will into the captivity of obedience, so as to observe all His commandments.

“And learn of Me, because I am Meek,” &c., which some thus interpret: Among the virtues and precepts inculcated in My Gospel, there are two virtues in particular, which I am specially desirous you should learn of Me, as your Divine Master. These are, humility and meekness. These are the special virtues, which shall serve as the surest means of procuring perseverance in bearing My sweet yoke; which alone can secure that desirable peace and rest surpassing all understanding. It is to pride and the angry desire of vengeance—vices, the opposite of humility and meekness—that all the miseries of this world are to be attributed. These are the virtues which we can imitate our Lord in cultivating, and from which no one can be dispensed. This is the interpretation of St. Augustine: “Discite a me non mundum fabricare, non cuncta visibilia et invisibilia creare … sed quoniam mitis sum et humilis corde” (Learn of me not to raise the fabric of the world, not to create all things visible and invisible, not in the world so created to work miracles and raise the dead; but, “that I am meek and lowly in heart). Our Lord tells us to copy after Himself in the practice of these virtues in particular (Serm. 69).

Others, with Maldonatus, &c., say, the meaning is: Take upon you My yoke, &c.; be not afraid of approaching Me, be your unworthiness and sinfulness what it may; rather, come with confidence, and learn, from your experience of Me, that I am not, like the Scribes and Pharisees, a haughty, morose, repulsive tyrant, to scare you away; but, on the contrary, a meek and gentle master, who will receive you with the greatest kindness and benignity, with truly humble condescension and affability.

This latter interpretation would seem to accord better with the context. For, the words of this verse would seem to be but a fuller explanation and development of the subject of the preceding verse (28). “Come” (v. 28), by your dispositions of heart to observe My law and obey My will and ordinances, is more fully expressed in the words of this verse, “Take up My yoke upon you.” “To Me,” who will not repel you; “because, I am meek and humble of heart,” gentle, kind in My government and intercourse, and you will find Me to be such. “And I will refresh you” (v. 28), is the same as, “you will find rest to your souls.” (The Greek for “refresh” and “rest,” is the same, ἀνἀπαυσιν = anapausin. See verse 28). This rest, this refreshment, results not from the observance of the precepts regarding meekness and humility of heart merely, although these form a portion of God’s law very effectual for begetting peace and rest; but, from bearing the “yoke” of Christ in its fulness, embracing the observance of all His commandments, the love of God and our neighbour, all that regards faith and morals. This is quite clear from the words of Jeremias (6:16), to which our Lord here manifestly alludes, also from Sirach 51:34-35.

Mat 11:30 For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.

If we adopt the interpretation of St. Augustine, given above, then the words will mean; by practising the virtues of meekness and humility, after His example, which are the surest means for enabling us to take up the yoke of Christ, and observe all His other precepts, we will be sure to enjoy peace of soul, because, they shall divest the yoke of Christ, or, the observance of His commandments, of bitter, galling irritation—the effect commonly produced by a “yoke.” They shall render the observance of God’s commandments, neither galling nor irritating; on the contrary, they shall beget in their observance, feelings of sweet benignity and contentment; and as a burden is oppressive from its weight, they shall render this “burden” “light” and easy to be carried, “and His commandments are not heavy” (1 John 5:3).

In the latter interpretation, the words of this verse are a proof, that they would find rest for their souls, in approaching Christ, in experiencing His meekness and humility, and in carrying “His yoke,” as explained above.

The “yoke” of Christ, far from galling or irritating, is “sweet,” comparatively, if contrasted with the yoke of the Mosaic law, “which neither they nor their fathers could bear;” and with the “yoke” of sin, and the slavery of the devil, which, though sweet and gratifying to corrupt nature, still leaves behind it bitterness, remorse of conscience, and ultimately plunges men for ever into hell.

It is “sweet” in itself, and “light,” because, His law is perfectly in accordance with the natural law, which the Gospel, with the mere addition of some positive precepts, more fully developes. Again, it is mild in regard to sinners, and has removed the rigorous punishments of the Old Law. Again, it carries with it abundant help and graces, not given in the Old Law, for self-fulfilment, and holds out promises the most consoling and abundant, of the fulfilment of which it gives us a sure earnest and foretaste here in the peace of God, which it bestows, exceeding all understanding. Finally, it proposes love and charity, as the sweet motive of our actions, and not, like the Old Law, the servile fear of punishments. “Ubi amatur, non laboratur; aut si laboratur, labor amatur” (St. Augustine).

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