In the Gospel for this Sunday, we hear an invitation and a promise. Jesus speaks to a crowd of people. The disciples are there, and some Pharisees. The rest of the crowd are ordinary people. Sinners, mostly. Jesus speaks to all the people gathered, inviting them to,
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
We wonder what the people think when they hear this. Perhaps they look around at each other, trying to see who carries a heavy burden. No one carries anything! They all put down on the ground whatever they were carrying when Jesus began to speak. Whom can Jesus be talking to?
As the crowd of sinners looks around at each other, perhaps they begin to realize what kind of burden Jesus means. Perhaps they realize that sin can be a burden. When we do something that we know is wrong, we know that we choose not to help build the Kingdom of God. In fact, we know that when we hurt someone with our actions or our words, we actually break down the Kingdom. We block the flow of the Holy Spirit into our branch of the True Vine. When we become aware of this, our hearts feel heavy. Our arms and legs feel thick with sin. We might laugh and smile on the outside, but on the inside, something heavy drops into the pit of our stomachs. It does not feel good, does it? Sin can be a very heavy burden indeed.
Pharisees stand in the crowd, too. Perhaps Jesus speaks to them? Pharisees very carefully do what God requires. They faithfully worship God, they faithfully take care of the poor. Like us.
Unfortunately, some of them—not all, but some—think that they are better than everyone else. Some of them forget that everyone sins. These particular Pharisees do not even realize that they also carry a burden of sin, because they compare themselves to others. Instead, they label other people as sinners and refuse to speak to them or include them in the life of the town. They make it difficult for sinners to return to God. They make the burden that people carry even heavier.
What does Jesus do? He invites and he promises.
Come to me
Whom does he invite?
Sinners, Pharisees, disciples.
All who carry those heavy burdens, exhausted by sin.
All who feel excluded.
All who feel not good enough.
All who know their need.
And Jesus promises,
I will give you rest.
This might remind us of that great psalm—that prayer that is so sweet it is almost a song—about the Good Shepherd:
He lets me rest in fields of green grass (Psalm 23:2a)
He lets the sheep rest. The sheep put down their burden of sin and lie down in all that green grass.
No hurry. No rush. No burden.
All the time in the world to rest.
When we know our burden of sin, when we know our need, we respond to the invitation that Jesus has already made.
Come to me
We go to him to receive the promise—to be forgiven. We go to him so he can remove the blockage of sin in our branch of the True Vine. We go to him so he can take away—absolutely—our burden of sin.
We go to the sacrament of Reconciliation.
We go to the sacrament of Reconciliation so that we can know ourselves forgiven. So that we can feel once again the flow of the Holy Spirit inside our branch. So that we can put down our burden of sin and receive Jesus' promise of rest.
And when we do, we know—like the one who wrote the psalm knows—that
He gives me new strength. (Psalm 23:3a)
Without the burden of sin, we find it so much easier to share Jesus' burden: building the Kingdom of God. And that burden is so much better! Jesus says,
“my burden is light.”