Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).
Scripture scholar, Fr. Daniel J. Harrington, SJ, states that in this passage Jesus’ invitation was given to those who are not yet his disciples, those Jews who do not yet believe in him and the way that he is proposing. He also intuits that Jesus is calling them from the heavy burdens laid upon them by the scribes and Pharisees and inviting them to accept his burden that is lighter (cf. Harrington, 167). We can read this in Matthew 4:3: “They tie up heavy burdens [hard to carry] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.”
Jesus’ charge leveled against the Pharisees comes from those who have experienced the laws without the assistance and support to follow them. The demands of Jesus are even more challenging than those of the Pharisees, Sadducees, or the scribes! I shared yesterday one of the six antitheses, here is another: “You have heard that it was said… whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to the judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna” (Mt5:21-22). Jesus is equating calling someone Raqa – an air-head, or calling someone a fool akin to murder. Our words can destroy or empower! We need to choose our words wisely.
The difference between Jesus and many of the religious leaders of his time is that Jesus, the Son of God in the fullness of his divinity, entered into the chaos of our humanity. As a human being, he walks among us and suffers along with us. He offers to yoke himself to us and so to carry the burden with us, making them lighter. Many impose burdens on us, we impose burdens on others, as did the Pharisees. We also impose them on ourselves and turn away from the invitation of Jesus’ help.
A handful of injuries I have suffered through the years were because I attempted to lift or carry something beyond my strength, instead of seeking assistance from another. I would think, “I can do it, I don’t need any help, I don’t want to bother anyone.” That is just the physical; there are also the mental and emotional burdens of anxiety, doubt, pride, fear, and worry that we burden ourselves with. This is not Jesus’ way.
Jesus offers us a path to follow that leads us to experience joy, peace, and tranquility in this life and fulfillment and union with God in the next. No matter what pain, suffering, trial, and/or challenge we are facing right now, we do not have to go through it alone. We just need to remember to reach out our hand to Jesus and when we do, what we will find is his hand already extended ready to grasp ours. Many times the offering comes from those who are close to us, who are more than willing to help.
In aligning ourselves with God’s will, life isn’t necessarily going to be easier, but he will give us the strength and peace of mind not only to endure but to experience a peace that surpasses all understanding while doing so. Let us take our first step together today, hand in hand with Jesus, and so find rest in knowing that we are not alone!
Also, may we be kind to those in our midst with our words, actions, and faces. Among those who may be abrupt or rude, we need to resist the temptation of reacting and instead be present and understanding; for we are not aware of the burdens others are carrying. Offer instead a simple smile as a start, which can make a heavy load just a little lighter.
Photo: Jesus behind the altar of St Peter Italian Catholic Church, where I attended some Masses during my six-month stay in Los Angeles in 2019.
Harrington, S.J. Daniel J. The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. 1 of Sacra Pagina, edited by Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007.