Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger, the club in their hands is my fury! Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.
But this is not what he intends, nor does he have this in mind; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few. For he says: "By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I have understanding; I have removed the boundaries of peoples, and have plundered their treasures; like a bull I have brought down those who sat on thrones. My hand has found, like a nest, the wealth of the peoples; and as one gathers eggs that have been forsaken, so I have gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved a wing, or opened its mouth, or chirped."
Shall the ax vaunt itself over the one who wields it, or the saw magnify itself against the one who handles it? As if a rod should raise the one who lifts it up, or as if a staff should lift the one who is not wood! Therefore the Sovereign, the Lord of hosts, will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors, and under his glory a burning will be kindled, like the burning of fire.
They cruch your people, O Lord,
they afflict the ones you have chosen.
They kill the widow and the stranger,
and murder the fatherless child. (R./)
And they say, The Lord does not see ;
the God of Jacob pays no heed.
Understand, you most senseless people;
you fools, when will you have knowledge? (R./)
Shall he who shaped the ear not hear?
or he who formed the eye not see?
Shall he who instructs nations not chastise,
he who teaches men knowledge? (R./)
For the Lord will not abandon his people,
nor forsake his inheritance;
But judgment shall again be with justice,
and all the upright of heart shall follow it. (R./)
At that time Jesus said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
The gospel lets us eavesdrop on a moment of realization on the part of Our Lord. Jesus went away to spend time in prayer, and we get a rare opportunity to hear the words of his prayer. Whereas Isaiah evokes the mammoth military machine of ancient Assyria, whose kings ruled an empire that lasted three hundred years, Matthew speaks of a different kind of power, as Jesus prays: "Father, Lord of heaven and earth, to you I offer praise; for what you have hidden from the learned and the clever you have revealed to the merest children."
This ability is known by children and is learned from one who is the Father's first-born Son. As Son, Jesus knows only what his Father reveals within him; and he is commissioned to share this great revelation with other "children," who are continuously begotten by God through faith. What is the mystery, known only by children, and especially by the most beloved of them, the Son who is Jesus? To know oneself as child is to realize our total dependence, our state of being begotten and receptive of life.
But parents discipline the child whom they love (Prov 3:12). Assyria became a rod of God's anger, to punish, correct and restore Israel to just and moral living. Yet when Assyria boasts, "By my own power I have done it," and interferes with God's plans, this "rod" will be tossed away. Isaiah asks, "Will the axe boast against one who chops with it? Could a rod wield the one who lifts it p?" The lesson is to remain humble and open as a child to God's life-giving direction. Then we can achieve creative and life-giving results, such as those accomplished by Moses, Isaiah and Jesus.
Today we are given a priveleged glimpse into the prayer life of Jesus. We are familiar with his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane when he asked, 'Father, take this cup from me.' The prayer of Jesus in this morning's gospel is one of praise, beginning, 'I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth.' Jesus praises God for the mysterious ways that God works, ways that seem paradoxical to human observation. Jesus blesses God for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.
It is not the religious experts, the teachers of the Jewish Law, who are coming to know God as revealed by Jesus. Rather, it is those who would have been considered religiously and theologically illiterate whothrough his ministry are coming to know God. Those who claim to know already are closed to learning about God from Jesus; those who are aware of how little they know are open to receiving the revelation of God that Jesus brings. The gospel reminds us that it is those who are aware of their own need, their own poverty before God, who will be open to whatever God wants to communicate to us through his Son.