First Reading: Zechariah 9: 9-10
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 145: 1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14
Second Reading: Romans 8: 9, 11-13
Gospel: Matthew 11: 25-30
Apart from its context, Jesus’ prayer in today’s Gospel is rather puzzling. He praises God for hiding “these things” from “the wise and the learned” and making them known to “the little ones.” The attentive listener may be forgiven for asking, what exactly are “these things” that are being hidden to some and revealed to others?
Just before this passage is Jesus’ “reproach to towns where most of his mighty deeds had been done since they had not repented” (Mt 11:20). It is a common Gospel theme that the self-righteous, the ones who think they are in control, are unable to hear the good news that Jesus preaches since it is a message that requires a change of heart and transformation of the status quo in which they often have a vested interest. Unlike the wise and learned who think they have the answers, the poor, the “little ones” have no illusions of being in control. It is the poor, those on the margins, who have no recourse in life than to God alone. These nepioi (little ones) understand and rejoice at Jesus’ preaching. In Jesus’ time, they were the majority of the population — mostly tenant farmers or others at the lowest end of the economic ladder — who had no sure means of sustaining themselves and who were at the mercy of the “great” of the earth.
We all know today’s “nepioi.” And if you are like me, many of these “little people” have touched my life. I have known “little ones” in Brazil — people with no education to speak of, barely able to read and write — dedicated to the Sim Terra movement that seeks to redistribute land to the poor. Here in the U.S., they are also the many people whose service jobs were classified as “essential” and who work as check-out clerks in grocery stores, drug stores, or in gas stations risking exposure to the virus during the Covid-19 pandemic in order to support their families. Another “little one” is Martin Gugino, 75, the Catholic Worker in Buffalo, New York who was recently pushed to the ground by police and severely injured in demonstrating for racial equality. There are also probably “little ones” among your relatives. My grandmother — an immigrant to the U.S. from Hungary — never learned English and had only an eighth-grade education. Despite being a poor widow, always had food in the house for poor relations and friends, always willing to give clothes to someone who seemed to need them more. It is these little ones who seem to have gotten the message, who share the good news that Jesus came to announce.
A heroic “little one” celebrated in a recent film by Terrence Malick was Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer and conscientious objector who refused to serve in Hitler’s army during World War II because of his Catholic faith. While the wise and the learned — priests, town officials, teachers — acquiesced to the Nazi regime, he quietly and steadfastly gave witness to his conviction that the Nazis were an evil with which he could not cooperate. The film is entitled “A Hidden Life” borrowing a phrase from George Eliot’s Middlemarch:
For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you or me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
It is often these “little ones,” these faithful “un-famous” people, who have received divine revelation, live by it, and show us the way the God.
Rev. Mark R. Francis, CSV
Professor of Liturgy