Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30
The people who went out to see and listen to John the Baptist and Jesus were weary from being pulled down. The people were living with the burdens of poverty, of political occupation, and of oppressive religious demands. The people were looking for a messiah to relieve them of their burdens. Their situation was grave.
The “wise and learned” as Jesus called them, created a system of religious laws that always demanded more of the people. These laws and their strict enforcement placed more and more burdens on the people, pulling them down. They were always on the prowl to heap the burdens of their rules onto the backs of the people, and also onto the back of Jesus.
As Jesus would say in Matthew 23 “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” Matthew 23:4
The people coming to Jesus had every reason to feel weary and burdened. The gravity of the situation was causing them to be stooped in a position of subservience.
The scribes and Pharisees played the pipe and demanded that the people dance. They sang a dirge and demanded that the people mourn. And if they didn’t, as John the Baptist and Jesus didn’t, they were mocked and punished
All that weight. All that gravity. It was pulling the people to their graves. They longed to be free of their burdens. Even Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane asked that his burden be removed from himself. Even he too felt the weight pulling him down.
Many of the people Jesus spoke to lived lives that required them to carry heavy physical burdens. Many of us today who read this Bible text do so from a place of privilege. It isis safe to say that the more privileged you are, the less weight you need to carry to survive. I don’t need to walk a couple miles carrying my family’s water for the day. I don’t need to carry bundles of shingles up ladders to earn minimum wage. In my place of privilege there are systems in place that protect me from the forces of gravity.
And yet, despite our privilege, each one of us could name how we feel weary, or name the burdens that are pulling us down. While different than the burdens of the first century followers of John and Jesus, they are no less real. Nor are they of any less concern to Jesus. Gravity may not be breaking our backs, but our burdens are crushing our spirits.
Often the burdens we take on are perfectly good and necessary. Just as the scribes and Pharisees were trying to come up with rules to create an orderly society, many of the burdens we take on are not bad things. But they become our burden when they fall out of God’s intention for our lives.
We bear the burden of perfectionism.
We bear the burden of feelings of inadequacy.
These things weigh us down.
We bear the burden of self-righteous judgement.
We bear the burden of feeling that we need save the world.
These things weigh us down.
We bear burdens of illness.
We bear burdens of loss.
We bear burdens that we can’t even acknowledge to ourselves.
And gravity pulls us and our burdens down.
Sometimes we take on burdens because we give in to societal expectations.
Sometimes we take on burdens to give our lives meaning.
Eventually we may come to see our burdens as our identity. I am weary. I am burdened. That is who I am.
The gravity of all our burdens is great.
This same gravity that is pulling us down pulled Jesus and the world’s burdens down to his grave.
So what is Jesus’ response to his followers?
Jesus sees the burdened and the weary people. He sees those stooped over bending to gravity and he first invites the them to come to him. He welcomes them.
Jesus doesn’t judge the people for bearing those burdens. Jesus doesn’t say “You should have known better than to follow those foolish scribes and Pharisees.” He simply invites them to come, and he offers them rest.
Jesus responds to the burdens of economic, political and religious oppression with the gift of rest. Rest is an image of salvation. Rest is sabbath. Rest is shalom. Rest is what it looks like when the world is ordered as God intends.
Most importantly, rest is not another burden the followers must bear. God provides the rest. It is a gift.
John the Baptist and Jesus, through their very different lifestyles modeled what it looked like to live free of those weighty burdens. John and Jesus subverted those regulations, those burdens. When the Pharisees played the pipe, John didn’t dance. When the scribes played the dirge, Jesus didn’t mourn.
Free of the heavy burdens, these receivers of Christ’s rest are enabled to stand up straight; to stand with dignity. No longer stooped over, they can raise their eyes from the ground to look out ahead of them.
And, unburdened and rested, Jesus invites the people to take on his yoke. Jesus’ followers weren’t to live a life free of all constraints and guides. The life of following Jesus is a life of discipleship and a life of abiding in God’s rule of love.
Jesus is quick to reassure his listeners (and me) that his yoke is easy and light. Jesus reminds us that he, unlike the scribes and Pharisees, is a gentle teacher
This same invitation of welcome and rest that Jesus offered 2000 years ago he offers to us today. Jesus offers us rest and relief from our battle with our burdens, from our battles with the downward pull of gravity.
This invitation is offered to all – because all are weary and burdened. Jesus knows we’ve taken on many of these burdens because we are just trying to do the right thing, but Jesus calls us to let go of these burdens. Take them off and let gravity pull them far away from you. Our situation is not grave. Our burdens are not our identity. Gravity doesn’t have the final say.
Cast off our burdens and take on his yoke.
The idea of no burden and no yoke is attractive, but God is doing great work and God believes in us and God knows that yoked with Jesus we can participate in God’s work. This is the work God has been doing for millennia and will continue after you are gone
God is simply asking us to get with the work God is already doing and be yoked with Jesus. A life of humble service freely given, not slavery to the master of oppressive demands.
What does this invitation to be unburdened look like for us and our church?
Imagine how much lighter our load would feel if our church could remove the burden of feeling insufficient, of being too small, and rest in Jesus’ yoke of divine abundance.
Imagine how much lighter our load would be if we could remove the burden of working hard and being busy to demonstrate our faithfulness and usefulness and took on Jesus’ yoke of simply being loved and valued for who you are.
Friends, our situation is not grave.
Gravity does not have the final word.
Jesus’ uplifting and resurrecting power, his light and restful yoke is generously offered to us all.
Arise, stand up straight, and receive this gift.