by T.V. Philip
T. V. Philip, born in India and a lay member of the Mar Thoma Church, has worked and taught in India, Europe, USA and Australia. He is a church historian, and a former Professor at the United Theological College, Bangalore, India.
The following appeared in The Kingdom of God is Like This, by T.V. Philip, jointly published by the Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Christava Sahitya Samithy (CSS), Cross Junction, M.C. Road, Tiruvalla-689 101, Kerela, India. The material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
Jesus thanks the Father for revealing to the simple and unlearned what has been hidden from the wise and the learned.
Come unto me all who are weary and burdened, I shall give you rest (Matt: 11:28).
(This verse is found only in Matthew and not in any of the other three gospels. It is also found in the Gospel of Thomas which is not in the New Testament canon).
This call of Jesus, ‘Come unto me’, at the end of chapter eleven of Matthew’s Gospel is very much related to what is said before in that chapter. In verse 25 Jesus thanks the Father for revealing to the simple and unlearned what has been hidden from the wise and the learned.
What was it that God revealed to the simple and the unlearned? Matthew does not explain it; but Luke in a parallel passage makes it clear. The context in Luke is the return of the seventy disciples from their missionary journey. The seventy in their missionary journey came to experience and understand the power of the kingdom of God.
In the name of Jesus the sick were healed and demons were cast out. They were greatly amazed that the demons obeyed them. Jesus told them, ‘Don’t be glad because the evil spirits obey you; rather be glad because your names are written in heaven’ (Luke 10:18). The important thing is not the miracle but the fact that the kingdom of heaven has come and they are members of it. In casting out demons in the name of Jesus, what was revealed to the disciples, who were simple and humble people, was that the kingdom of God has come in the person of Jesus Christ and they are experiencing the power of it.
The eleventh chapter of Matthew begins with John the Baptist in prison. John sends his disciples to ask Jesus: Are you the one who was going to come? Jesus answers: Go back and tell John what you are hearing and seeing: the blind can see, the lame can walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are brought back to life, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.
All these are signs that Jesus was the Messiah and in him the new age of God’s kingdom had come. Then Jesus turns to the crowd and asks why they went to hear John the Baptist in the wilderness. Was he a blade of grass bending in the wind? Or was he a man dressed in fancy clothes? No, they went to hear a prophet.
Jesus tells them that John was more than a prophet because he stood on the threshold of the kingdom of God. John the Baptist was greater than any man who lived. But Jesus assures them that even the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than John. John, though more than a prophet, was only a forerunner and not a member of the kingdom. Now one who was greater than John the Baptist was here, the Messiah himself. It is him they should come to; then they would enter into the kingdom of God. On another occasion Jesus reminded them how the Queen of Sheba had traveled all the way to hear the wise words of Solomon: now, one greater than Solomon was here. The people of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah, but now one greater than Jonah is here and people were not listening to him. Now that the kingdom of God had come, Jesus is challenging the people to make a response.
Jesus makes people look at themselves. He tells them they are like children sitting in the market place. One group shouts to the other: We played wedding music for you but you would not dance. Then the other group would shout: We sang funeral songs but you would not cry. This is the generation which does not respond. They are indifferent to what God is doing in the ministry of Jesus. They are like people of Chorazin and Bethsaida who have seen the wonders of God performed in their midst but did not respond. The great tragedy in human life is that after experiencing the great love and mercies of God we become indifferent to God.
Yet Jesus calls us again and again to make a response. "Come unto me", he calls, "all that labor and are heavy laden, I will give you rest". "Come unto me". God takes the initiative to call us to himself. God through the prophet Isaiah calls out, "Come, all who are thirsty, come to the waters; you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost".
God’s grace is free. Come those who have no money and buy without money. We cannot come to God without God calling us to himself. St. Paul says, "We cannot know God without being known of God first". He calls us again and again because he loves us. This is what the prophet Hosea tells us. Hosea chapter eleven is one of the greatest chapters in the Old Testament, a very moving chapter. God is saying:
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. It was I who taught Ephrem to walk, taking him by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with the chords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them. ... I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor devastate Ephrem again, For I am God and not man -- the Holy one among you.
God loves Israel as his child. There is sadness and sorrow in God’s voice. It is God’s love which compels him to call us back again and again: Come unto me.
God’s call is addressed to a particular group of people. Come unto me all who are thirsty, who are hungry, and all that labor and are heavy laden. Only a sick person will feel the need for a physician. Only one who is thirsty will feel the need for a drink. For the Son of Man came to seek and save these who are lost.
The people who feel self sufficient in their lives have no need for God. The call of God is addressed to the weary, overburdened, who long for deliverance and long for the help of God. God calls them and they respond. Only those who are willing to surrender everything to God, and depend on God for everything can hear God’s call and respond. Come unto me, all who are weary and burdened, I will give you rest.
In the New Testament two Greek words are used for ‘rest’. One indicates the final rest in heaven after our life in this world. But the other word means temporary rest. It means refreshing. When Jesus says, "I will give you rest," he means "I will refresh you" for further activity. Jesus calls all those who are weary and over burdened so that they may be strengthened and refreshed for our tasks in the world. The ‘rest’ will not be idleness or inactivity but strengthening for our responsibilities. It also means. that we will be relieved of our anxiety.
In Jesus Christ the kingdom of God has come. He is calling us who are overburdened with sin and sorrow, burdened with struggles of this life and who are anxious about life. He is calling us to himself so that he may relieve us of our anxiety and refresh and strengthen us for our responsibilities in this world. Will we respond to this call?