With the anger, stress, fear, and general anxiety that we have been facing as a nation the past few months, this text from Matthew 11 comes as a necessary respite.
Jesus sounds harsh as He begins this passage. He tells the crowds who had come to hear Him that they aren’t listening to Him. The prophets who came before Him, such as John the Baptist, were criticized for being too much of a ‘downer’ by calling the people to repentance. John was sent to prepare the way for Jesus the Messiah, but he was accused of having a demon because of his strong call to repent.
Jesus then came, eating and drinking with people who were considered on the fringe of respectable society. He was accused by the religious leaders of being a glutton and a drunkard! He must have been telling the crowds: “We can’t win. No matter what we are being criticized. People aren’t listening to God’s messengers.”
It’s not unexpected too, that some tempers have gotten short, some nerves frayed, and the general anxiety level seems to have risen sharply. It has been a draining time for Jesus, to say the least.
Tempers and anxiety have risen sharply throughout the country we are living in today as well. We have Covid fatigue. We are desperate for news of change: that the virus is on its way out, and that the social upheaval is getting resolved, or that things in our lives will just settle down—at least for the time being.
Jesus seemed exasperated when He prayed, giving thanks to God the Father, that all the things they were doing were hidden from the wise and understanding and were revealed to those whose faith was strong and trusting like an infant’s.
He pleaded to the people who were down-trodden, tired, exasperated, and oppressed from their labors, saying: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
After our past few weeks and months, and the work that still lies ahead, we need to hear these words as well. Whenever we are feeling as if the burdens of life are overwhelming, we need to hear these words of our Lord anew. “Come,” He pleads. Lay your burdens at His feet, let Him carry the yoke that is becoming too heavy. He will ease your minds and lay your fears to rest.
As we take time out to celebrate our national holiday this weekend, we also remember the burdens we are feeling as a nation. The Coronavirus seems to be wearing on our emotions so much that we are getting testy toward one another; we are squabbling about wearing masks, about gathering in crowds, about the actual seriousness of the whole event. The social upheaval is moving beyond the original struggles of minorities in our society. Destruction, violence, and senseless death are taking place. Our governmental leaders are not coming together to solve these problems as we hope and need. After nearly 20 years, we are still dealing with the war on terror overseas and are looking for ways to bring our troops home. We remember most the service men and women along with their families who are putting their lives on the line for us. We also remember our law enforcement people who are on the front lines of crime, drug traffic, abuse of all kinds, who face danger each day on our cities’ streets and in the rural areas and the backlash they are dealing with from the George Floyd death.
To us all Jesus says, “Come to me…lay your burdens at my feet, and let me carry the load.” When Jesus spoke these words a ‘yoke’ was something the people understood. Actual yokes of wood and iron were laid on the necks and shoulders of oxen and other draft animals for work purposes. Yokes were also placed on prisoners of war and slaves. A yoke was a familiar symbol of bondage, slavery, oppression, and burden-bearing. The emotional yokes were as great for those people as were the physical yokes. The oppression of the Roman occupiers was heavy. Jesus knew what this was all about firsthand. Even the religious establishment placed its own yokes on the people.
Jesus offered them a way out. By bringing their burdens to Him, they could be free to love and care for themselves and others. They could rest assured that God knew their plight and was not sitting idly by as they suffered.
On this Independence Day weekend, we are at a critical point in our nation’s history. Jesus’ message rings true for us today. Will we hear the words of Jesus calling us to put aside our differences and love one another? Will we be like the crowds in Jesus’ day who heard the words of the prophets and Jesus Himself, and simply didn’t hear or didn’t listen? Can we repent personally and as a nation to truly treat all people as equals? Can we put aside our philosophical differences to work together for the betterment of all people? Will we challenge our leaders to do the same?
Jesus is challenging us to hear His message and to respond. He also is giving us the way to find that peace we are searching for as individuals and as a country. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest,” Jesus pleads with us. This is the time to return to the LORD and to lay our burdens, our concerns, our fears, our anger, our frustration, and our anxieties at His feet. Bring them to the cross on which our Savior died—for you and for me. Let go of the bitterness and work on trusting one another as we work together.
We have a lot on our collective plates right now. We dare not let all those issues get the best of us. We are presented with a way to do that if we as a people will listen to Jesus and encourage others by the way WE LIVE our lives and treat others, and by the things we say.
Bring your burdens to Jesus. Let Him bear your struggles and fill you with His peace.