Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 11:28-30

Mat 11:28  Come to me all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.
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.
Mat 11:30  For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.

Come to me all you that labor. b. Happiness of the citizens even in this life. In this paragraph Jesus first determines more accurately who his little ones are; then he states in a general term the blessedness he will give them; thirdly, he describes the conditions of this blessedness more minutely; fourthly, he gives three reasons for conforming with these conditions, α. Christ’s little ones. In accordance with the prophecies [Is. 61:1, 3; Zeph 3:18 heb.; cf. Mt. 5:5], Christ calls especially all those that labor and are burdened, i. e., all those that are any way afflicted [Jansenius], or all those that are oppressed with work and suffering [Cajetan, Fillion], or all those oppressed by the Mosaic law and the sinfulness of the Gentile world [Hilary, Jerome, Cyril, Theophylact, Opus Imperfectum, Paschasius, Thomas Aquinas], or all those laboring under the miseries and the sinfulness of life and burdened with the Pharisaic traditions [Theodoret of Cyrus heracl. Or. in eat. Dionysius, Calmet, Arnoldi, Chrysologus serm. 105], or all those worried with care and oppressed with sin [Euthymius].

β. Blessedness of the citizens. Christ describes this in the general promise, “I will refresh you.” It consists, therefore, not merely in freedom from labor and burdens, but in positive refreshment of all that toil and bear heavy burdens [Chrysostom, Euthymius]. Our Lord’s doctrine contains the remedy against the ills of life, his sacraments remove the burden of sin and the pain of an evil conscience, his New Law abolishes the heavy burdens of the Mosaic legislation [cf. Jansenius].

γ. Condition of blessedness. The sole condition under which we can expect relief from all labor and pain is expressed in the words “take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me.” The second clause explains the first, showing that the first must be taken in the Rabbinic [Schöttgen, 1. p. 115; Wünsche, p. 147] and Hebrew sense [Jer. 5:5; Sirach 51:34] of law or precept. The yoke of Christ consists, therefore, in his teaching, whether strictly preceptive or instructive [cf. Euthymius, Hilary, Bede, Thomas Aquinas, Cajetan, Jansenius, Maldonado, Lapide, Calmet, Schanz, Fillion], and implies on our part a total surrender to his rule and management [cf. Arnoldi, Bisping, Keil, Weiss, Knabenbauer etc.].

δ. Three reasons for conforming with the foregoing condition: [1] On the part of the teacher, we shall find meekness and humility. Though several writers [Augustine, Opus Imperfectum, Paschasius, Alb. Thomas Aquinas, Faber Stapulensis, Dionysius, Cajetan, Calmet] understand the words “learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart,” as if we were to learn the virtues of meekness towards men [Cajetan] and humility towards God [Cajetan] in a special manner of our Lord, the greater number of commentators prefer the explanation “learn of me, because,” according to which the meekness and humility of the teacher are held out as motives for becoming his disciples [Hilary, Maldonado, Jansenius, Sylveira, Lapide, Sa, Men. Lam. Arnoldi, Bisping, Schegg, Grimm, 4. p. 217; Reischl, Schanz, Fillion, Knabenbauer]. The second view is based first, on the Greek text, where we have the casual particle ὅτι; secondly, on the context, according to which we must learn not only the virtues of meekness and humility, but all that are implied in the “yoke” of Christ; thirdly, on the logical thread of thought which leads us to believe that our Lord did not introduce a new topic, but developed the idea of his yoke and doctrine; fourthly, on the inconsistency of the first view, according to which we must learn the two virtues of meekness and humility, while according to the gospel, thus interpreted, we ought to learn that Jesus is meek and humble. Our own obligation to be meek and humble is, then, only a consequent or inferential meaning of the passage in either the first or the second view. The author of op. imp. has well understood this, since, according to him, we must learn, by bearing the very yoke of Christ, that he is meek and humble of heart. It must be noted also that the preposition “of” in the clause “of me” renders the Greek preposition ἀπό, so that properly we ought to render “learn on me,” or “learn from me onwards” [Buttmann, p. 279]; but ἀπὸ stands also for the common παρὰ or ἐκ [Krüger, 68, 34, 1; cf. Col. 1:7], so that the rendering “of me” is based on good authority.

[2] On our own part, a compliance with the foregoing condition shall bring that peace and rest after which all living creatures long so ardently. The clause “to your souls” must not be understood as if the yoke of Christ contained contentment for the soul of man to the exclusion of his body [cf. Opus Imperfectum, Paschasius, Cajetan], but it means “for yourselves,” as soul is often used in Hebrew to express one’s self [cf. Jer. 6:16; Ps. 78:18; Is. 46:2; etc.].

[3] On the part of the service of Christ, his “yoke is sweet” and his “burden light”; the Greek word expressing “sweet” applies mostly to persons, so that it alludes to the character of the Master himself. The sweetness [properly “softness”] of the yoke is mentioned, because animals working under the yoke suffer more from its roughness or unfitness than from their labor [Knabenbauer]. The yoke of Christ is sweet for several reasons: first, he has abrogated the hard Mosaic legislation [cf. Acts 15:10]; secondly, he has commanded only what is more or less contained in the natural law, so that his commands can be comprised in the one injunction to do to our neighbor what we would wish our neighbor to do to us [Maldonado]; thirdly, he has merited for us abundant grace and the strength of the Holy Ghost, so that we need not perform our duties by our own strength [Augustine serm. 70, n. 2]; fourthly, he inspires us with his own love, and where one loves the command, there is no difficulty in obeying [Augustine, l. c. n. 3; Lam. Cajetan]; fifthly, he has abrogated the many hard punishments that threatened the transgressor in the Old Testament, and he has given us easy means to obtain forgiveness for our transgressions [Cyril]; he has proposed to us a most abundant reward for all our labor and toil undertaken for his sake [Chrysostom; cf. 2 Cor. 4:17]; finally, the precept of Jesus concerning the narrow gate and the bearing of the cross [Mt. 7:13, 14; 10:38] is rendered most easy by the foregoing aids, present and future, as is evident from the example of innumerable saints and martyrs who have gloried in the cross of Christ [cf. Opus Imperfectum]. These words of our Lord, which manifest a more than human attractiveness in his person and character, must have made a most powerful impression on the Jewish hearers, burdened with the heavy load of Pharisaic traditions [Mt. 23:4] and galled by the sovereign contempt of their scribes [Jn. 7:49].

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