You can see the fatigue on their faces. The teachings have been rejected; the miracles thwarted; the cities unwelcoming. By the time the disciples get to todays text, they’re tired. In one of his most pastoral moments, Jesus responds saying, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
So what burden does Jesus ease?
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” 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. “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.”
The burden of trying to be Jesus alone.
The burden of constantly being overlooked and outcast.
The burden of upward mobility.
When it comes to a theology of work, most of us stopped reading at Genesis chapter 3. After the forbidden fruit was eaten, labor became an exercise in futility. 40 hours a week of hitching ourselves to plows that won’t till, to sweating over soil that won’t produce, to tangling among thorn and thistle. Work then becomes a drudgery of 9-5, a chore that’s contrary to God’s will.
But if our Original Sin contributed to the fallen nature of work, then Jesus has come to redeem it by easing the burden of meaningless tasks. The restaurant job isn’t just an apron and spatula punch the clock becomes a forum to feed the 5000, the pharmacy a dispensary of prescriptions to calm the demoniacs, the wood shop a place to assemble crosses to carry.
He also eases the burden of isolation, the falsehood that any of us truly work best alone. Instead, Jesus invites us to be his co-worker in covenant, his partner tending the earth knowing that a job is most satisfying when done beside someone you love.
And Jesus most eases the burden of carrying a single yoke. Any farm hand knows a sole animal will wear itself out shortly after breaking the ground, leaving the shoulders sore, the back aching, the body exhausted. But the Greek word here entails a double yoke, a wooden bar that unites two creatures as one. Together, they can share the load, pulling in the same direction from dawn until dusk.
A local woman, so the story goes, was pronounced clinically dead, flat lined at the hospital. She saw the light, felt the eternal embrace. On the other side was her beloved grandfather. He welcomed her saying, “I’ll give you a tour, but just remember you’re time isn’t up, you’re going back to earth.” On the magic carpet ride above the clouds, heaven, it turned out, was not what she had expected. No poolside lounges, no umbrella drinks, no naps in the sun. Instead, everyone was turning wrenches and mending fences and threading needles. She turned to her grandfather and asked, “Why does everyone work in heaven?” He answered, “God created us all with a job. But most of us get too tired, too scared, too stuck, too proud, too comfortable. So heaven is the place where we are finally live out what we were created to do. The woman came back to life on the operating table, was discharged from the hospital and got about the business of God’s work on earth.
Regardless of ability or disability, employment or unemployment status, we were all created to work. Since toiling East of Eden has already taught us all we need to know about the curse of clocking in to that which we don’t believe, Jesus comes to us again and again, offering to bless our labor, offering to be our yokefellow, offering us an occupation in the fields of fruitfulness.