HOMILY for the 14th Sunday per annum (A)
I’ve spent the past week attending graduation ceremonies in the McEwan Hall; six in total. And from the platform, seated under the organ, I’ve looked out on the happy faces of thousands of young people, with their parents and supporters all looking on. It has been a privilege and a joy to be among those supporters, applauding our new graduates. As each of them mounted the platform to be tapped on the head with what the Principal famously calls a “hybrid antique space bonnet”, I considered the many steps that had brought them to this day, and gave thanks for their accomplishments. And as I perused the titles of the doctoral theses printed in the graduation booklet, I marvelled at the breadth of learning and knowledge and experience gathered in that Hall.
And yet, as today’s Gospel reminds us, not everything can be investigated and discovered by the “wise and understanding” (Mt 11:25a), no matter how many years of research are undertaken. For some things are only known by God and revealed by him. What are these things? They concern Christ’s saving work and his divine identity. Hence the prophet Zechariah says: “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he” (9:9). And St Paul says: “Christ is in you” (Rom 8:10) and “the Spirit of God really dwells in you” (Rom 8:9). These are the divine mysteries of our salvation, of the Incarnation, of God’s abiding closeness to us through grace, which are revealed by Jesus Christ and proclaimed in the Scriptures, and handed on by his Church.
St Thomas, at the beginning of his Summa theologiæ thus says that it was necessary for Mankind’s salvation that certain truths “which exceed human reason should be make known to [Mankind] by divine revelation”. Moreover, even “those truths about God which human reason could have discovered” would take too many years to research and learn, and too few would have the intelligence to do this kind of academic work, and it might be riddled with errors since human reason is fallible and prone to making mistakes. Therefore, St Thomas argues, because Mankind’s “whole salvation, which is in God, depends on the knowledge of this truth” it was necessary that Mankind “should be taught divine truths by divine revelation”. That is to say, we need Jesus to teach us the Way of salvation. So Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “learn from me” (Mt 11:29).
What is it we learn from Jesus? How to become children of God. For today’s Gospel says that the Father has “revealed [these things] to babes”. But, in fact, a better rendering of the Greek text would be: to “the childlike” (Mt 11:25b).
In the first place, childlikeness is a reference to faith. Children don’t find faith difficult because from the moment of conception a relationship of dependency and trust, of faith, is established between the child and the mother; it is the most natural thing. Every child thirsts for truth – which is why they ask so many questions; it a most human thing to do to seek truth. But their childlikeness means that they believe the answers given to them by their parents and teachers. They do so with an inherent faith. So, when Jesus says that the Father has revealed divine truths to the childlike, he is calling on us to have faith like this and so to believe Christ’s Word, to rely on his teachings revealed in Scripture, to trust the teaching of his Body, the Church. Christ is the answer to humanity’s deepest questions.
However, the Father reveals divine truths to the Child-like in another sense. I think it’s a reference to baptism which unites us to Christ the divine Child, and makes us children of God. There is a hint of this in today’s Gospel but the translation obscures it. What is rendered as “Yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” is literally “for thus it was well-pleasing before you” (Mt 11:26). This phrase brings to mind Christ’s own baptism when the Father declares: “You are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). So, our Child-likeness comes through baptism in which we are reborn in the likeness of the Son, and become sons and daughters of the Father by adoption. Through our baptism, God is well-pleased with us, and he reveals his divine truths to us, his children. As Rowan Williams noted when he received an honorary doctorate last Friday, baptism was thus known in the early Church as “enlightenment”. For the baptised are the Child-like whom God has enlightened with true knowledge concerning salvation. Such knowledge doesn’t come through many years of laborious research and hard work, but rather through faith. It comes through going to Christ, believing his Word, and so resting in him. Thus Jesus says: “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).
Every Christian, then, went to Christ in baptism which is also called the “sacrament of faith”. For we step up from the font, and so, ‘graduate’ into a life of faith; a life of Child-likeness. While Edinburgh doctors graduate in scarlet robes of precious silk, we, the children of God were robed in the scarlet of the precious blood of Christ. But the key difference between the graduation ceremonies I witnessed and baptism is this. For many, graduation is a major step of adulthood, a milestone in the movement of an individual towards independence from one’s parents. And yet advancing in faith requires a contrary movement. As we grow up in faith the adult Christian has to become more Child-like. Essentially, we have to become more like Jesus, the divine Child.