Matthew 11:25-30

Rest for the Weary

By The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel


Have you ever seen the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray?  It is one of the most excruciating films I have ever seen. Murray is a television announcer condemned to repeat the same Groundhog Day in Puxatawny, Pennsylvania. Over and over again he relives the events of that day: the alarm would ring at six a.m., the same radio announcement would be made of an impending snowstorm, he would have the same conversation at breakfast, meet the same people on the street, hear the same pronouncement that Phil the groundhog had seen his shadow, experience the same winter storm, over and over and over.

The movie had a moral. Bill Murray the typical type-A, driven personality, self-centered jerk could not escape his endless groundhog day. He could not leave town, could not find rest, and not even commit suicide until he had transformed himself from being an obnoxious person to one who cared about others. When he finally loved another, he was able to wake up and find that it was no longer Groundhog Day.

Our life may seem like Groundhog Day. It is often the same old thing over and over and over. That’s why we like July and the prospect of summer vacation. I clipped a cartoon some years ago of Cathy. In the first frame, she comments to her dog: “It is a beautiful summer evening; I think I will go outside for a walk.” Then as the frames continue, she starts to fret. It begins with her need to write some letters and pay some bills. Then she remembers she should clean her closet, find someone to meet, rethink her career and it ends with Cathy lying exhausted on her couch. The last frame has her dog commenting, “July, emotional flea and tick season for humans.”

We need rest. We have heard stories of famous people—Thomas Edison never slept, but took naps through the day and night. Winston Churchill used to try to take a rest during the darkest days of the London blitz because he knew he needed his energy. He would hold a pencil and drop off to sleep. When the pencil hit the floor he would wake up. It was enough—it was rest. In 1940, United States Ambassador Alexander Kirk remembered seeing President Roosevelt carried to his cabin on his yacht in a state of extreme exhaustion, very old and tired. In an hour’s time, he came out a new man, looking twenty years younger. His daughter remarked, “Father is like that since his illness—remember he was afflicted with polio, he has trained himself to rest intensively. That is how he goes on.”

There is a legend about St. John the Apostle. One day someone found him playing with a tame partridge and criticized him for not being at work. His answer was, “The bow that is always at full stretch will soon cease to shoot straight.” We need to rest. We need rest for our bodies, our minds, for our spirit. We need to hear the word from the Gospel, “Come unto me all ye that are heavy laden and I shall give you rest.” Jesus sees our needs, knows our longing and bids us come to Him.

Commentators on our passage see a two-fold message of Jesus to His hearers and us. The first is an intellectual meaning: At that time Jesus said,

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent
and have revealed them to infants.”

What has been revealed to little babies, to the simple, is very profound. It is Jesus’ relationship to God:

“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.”

Who is this Jesus who is teaching and preaching and healing? Jesus is one with God. We can come to know God by knowing Jesus. Jesus brings rest for our minds.

No amount of philosophy or theology or speculation can give us the intellectual rest that comes through faith in Jesus. The Christian claim is that the relationship of the believer to Jesus is all important. We are saved by faith, not understanding. Many who have great intelligence are still lacking the wisdom that comes from believing in the Lord. Many of limited learning and understanding have the personal joy of knowing and loving the Savior and knowing that they are valued and loved by God. When we come to Jesus, we find rest for our souls—the Greek word is psyche—for our minds. We can rest from having to figure everything out, from having to understand the meaning of the universe. We can be free to give our doubts also to God. You can have peace of mind, rest in your quest, by receiving God’s revelation in Jesus.

And there is also another meaning in our text, one very important in Jesus’ day. This has to do with ethical rigor. It deals with the heavy burden of the Law, about keeping the commandments and teachings so as to be acceptable to God. Even in Matthew’s Christian Church there were those who held that Christians must become Jews first and keep the Jewish Law as well as have Christian faith. Peace of mind and soul is not just an intellectual thing—it also deals with letting go of sins and cares and worries that drag each one of us down. We are not saved by our success, by our performance, by the opinion of others. We continually fall short of God’s intention and our expectation of ourselves. That’s why Paul in our second lesson says, “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate . . . I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” We are not saved by keeping the works prescribed by the Law but by faith in Christ who kept the Law perfectly and died for our sins.

Jesus is saying clearly that our worth is not found in our understanding or our effort. Your worth is not in what you are or what you do; you are not more valuable to God because of your education, your money or prosperity, your good looks or your winning personality. These are things that humans value, but God finds your worth in whose you are. You are of great value because Jesus has called you and received you, accepted you and forgiven you. The greatest gift give you is faith in Jesus Christ.

Christianity should not be a burden. The Lord promises us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Some think the image of a yoke came easily to Jesus who may have made yokes for oxen as a carpenter. He would have known how a well-fitting yoke made it much easier for the oxen to do their work.

Christianity should not be a burden for us but a joy in knowing the love of the Lord. We must be careful that we do not turn our simple faith into a burden for ourselves or others. Whatever we do in the Lord’s name should suit us and affirm us. We should find teaching Sunday school or singing in the choir or serving on a congregation board or visiting the sick, whatever we do in the Lord’s Name, should be a joy not a burden. We should take to heart the advice from St Augustine in the fourth century that “we should love Jesus and for the rest, do what we want.” Faith in Jesus and living out that faith should be easy and light. Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light.

James Agate tells of the terminal illness of a charwoman who knew death was near. She said:

Don’t pity me now.
Don’t pity me never .
I’m going to do nothing
For ever and ever.

There are times we feel like that. There are times when we want to do nothing for ever and ever but then we remember that our restless hearts can find rest in Christ. His yoke is easy and burden is light. Amen.

Copyright 2005 James D. Kegel.  Used by permission.