A Loving Invitation to the Tired Ones
“Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you.”—MATTHEW 11:28.
1. What did Jesus see in Galilee on his third preaching tour?
NEAR the beginning of the year 32 C.E., Jesus was on his third preaching tour in the district of Galilee. He traveled through the cities and villages, “teaching in their synagogues and preaching the good news of the kingdom and curing every sort of disease and every sort of infirmity.” As he did this, he saw the crowds, and “he felt pity for them, because they were skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd.”—Matthew 9:35, 36.
2. How did Jesus help the people?
2 Jesus, however, did more than just feel pity for the crowds. After instructing his disciples to pray to “the Master of the harvest,” Jehovah God, he sent them out to help the people. (Matthew 9:38; 10:1) Then he offered the people his personal assurance of the way to genuine relief and comfort. He extended to them this heartwarming invitation: “Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls.”—Matthew 11:28, 29.
3. Why is Jesus’ invitation equally appealing today?
3 Today we live in a time when many feel heavily burdened and loaded down. (Romans 8:22; 2 Timothy 3:1) For some, just making a living consumes so much of their time and energy that they have little left for their family, friends, or anything else. Many are burdened with serious illness, afflictions, depression, and other physical and emotional problems. Feeling the pressure, some try to find relief by immersing themselves in pleasure-seeking, eating, drinking, even drug abuse. This, of course, only throws them into a vicious circle, bringing them more problems and pressures. (Romans 8:6) Clearly, Jesus’ loving invitation sounds just as appealing today as it did back then.
4. What questions should we consider in order to benefit from Jesus’ loving invitation?
4 To what, though, were the people in Jesus’ day subjected, so that they appeared “skinned and thrown about,” moving Jesus to feel pity for them? What were the burdens and loads they had to carry, and how would Jesus’ invitation help them? The answers to these questions can be most helpful to us in benefiting from Jesus’ loving invitation to the tired ones.
Those “Toiling and Loaded Down”
5. Why was it appropriate that the apostle Matthew reported on this event in Jesus’ ministry?
5 It is interesting that only Matthew reported on this event in Jesus’ ministry. Having been a tax collector, Matthew, who was also known as Levi, was well acquainted with one particular burden the people were carrying. (Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:14) Says the book Daily Life in the Time of Jesus: “The taxes that [the Jews had] to pay in money and in kind were exceedingly heavy, and they were all the heavier in that two forms of taxation ran side by side for them, civil taxes and religious taxes; and neither was light.”
6. (a) What was the tax system in use in Jesus’ time? (b) Why did tax collectors have such a bad reputation? (c) Of what did Paul feel the need to remind his fellow Christians?
6 What made all of this especially burdensome was the tax system at the time. Roman officials farmed out the right to collect taxes in the provinces to the highest bidders. They, in turn, employed people in local communities to supervise the actual work of collecting the tax. Everyone in the pyramid scheme felt fully justified to tag on his own commission, or cut. For example, Luke related that “there was a man called by the name Zacchaeus; and he was a chief tax collector, and he was rich.” (Luke 19:2) “Chief tax collector” Zacchaeus and those under his supervision apparently built their fortunes on the people’s misery. The abuse and corruption engendered by such a system caused the people to rank tax collectors among sinners and harlots, and probably deservedly so in most cases. (Matthew 9:10; 21:31, 32; Mark 2:15; Luke 7:34) Since the people felt an almost unbearable burden, it is no wonder that the apostle Paul felt the need to remind his fellow Christians not to chafe under the Roman yoke but to “render to all their dues, to him who calls for the tax, the tax; to him who calls for the tribute, the tribute.”—Romans 13:7a; compare Luke 23:2.
7. How did the Roman penal laws add to the people’s burden?
7 Paul also reminded Christians to render “to him who calls for fear, such fear; to him who calls for honor, such honor.” (Romans 13:7b) The Romans were noted for the cruelty and severity of their penal laws. Scourging, flogging, harsh prison terms, and executions were frequently used in order to keep the people in line. (Luke 23:32, 33; Acts 22:24, 25) Even the Jewish leaders were given the authority to administer such punishment as they saw fit. (Matthew 10:17; Acts 5:40) Such a system was certainly most repressive, if not outright oppressive, to anyone living under it.
8. How did the religious leaders load a burden on the people?
8 Worse than the Roman taxes and laws, however, was the burden placed on the common people by the religious leaders of the day. In fact, this appeared to be Jesus’ primary concern when he described the people as “toiling and loaded down.” Jesus said that rather than give the down-trodden people hope and solace, the religious leaders “bind up heavy loads and put them upon the shoulders of men, but they themselves are not willing to budge them with their finger.” (Matthew 23:4; Luke 11:46) One cannot fail to note in the Gospels the unmistakable portrayal of the religious leaders—especially the scribes and the Pharisees—as a haughty, heartless, and hypocritical group. They looked down on the common people as being unlearned and unclean, and they despised the foreigners in their midst. A commentary on their attitude observes: “A man who overloads a horse is nowadays chargeable before the law. What of a man who loaded 613 commandments on ‘the people of the land’ who had no religious training; and then, having done nothing to help them, condemned them as godless?” Of course, the real burden was, not the Mosaic Law, but the mass of tradition imposed on the people.
Real Cause of Hardship
9. How did conditions among the people of Jesus’ time compare with those in King Solomon’s day?
9 At times the material burden upon the people was a heavy one, so that there was widespread poverty. The Israelites had to pay the reasonable taxes set out by the Mosaic Law. Then during Solomon’s rule, the people cared for very costly national projects, such as building the temple and other edifices. (1 Kings 7:1-8; 9:17-19) Yet, the Bible tells us that the people were “eating and drinking and rejoicing. . . . And Judah and Israel continued to dwell in security, everyone under his own vine and under his own fig tree, from Dan to Beer-sheba, all the days of Solomon.” (1 Kings 4:20, 25) What accounted for the difference?
10. What was the reason for Israel’s situation by the first century?
10 As long as the nation remained firm for true worship, they enjoyed Jehovah’s favor and were blessed with security and prosperity in spite of the heavy national expenditure. However, Jehovah warned that if they “should definitely turn back from following [him] and not keep [his] commandments,” they would suffer serious reversals. In fact, “Israel [would] indeed become a proverbial saying and a taunt among all the peoples.” (1 Kings 9:6, 7) Matters turned out just that way. Israel came under foreign domination, and the once glorious kingdom was reduced to mere colonial status. What a price to pay for neglecting their spiritual obligations!
11. Why did Jesus feel that the people “were skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd”?
11 All of this helps us to understand why Jesus felt that the people he saw “were skinned and thrown about.” These were Israelites, Jehovah’s people, who by and large were trying to live according to God’s laws and to carry on their worship in an acceptable way. Nevertheless, they were exploited and down-trodden not only by the political and commercial powers but also by the apostate religious leaders among them. They were “like sheep without a shepherd” because they had no one to care for them or to plead their case. They needed help to cope with very harsh realities. How timely was Jesus’ loving and gentle invitation!
Jesus’ Invitation Today
12. What pressures do God’s servants and other sincere people feel today?
12 In many ways things are similar today. Sincere people who are trying to make an honest living find the pressures and demands from the corrupt system of things hard to bear. Even those who have dedicated their lives to Jehovah are not immune. Reports show that some among servants of Jehovah are finding it increasingly difficult to live up to all their responsibilities, even though they want to do so. They feel burdened down, tired, worn out. Some even feel that it would be a relief if they could just throw everything to the wind and disappear somewhere so that they could pull themselves together. Have you ever felt that way? Do you know someone close to you in that situation? Yes, Jesus’ heartwarming invitation has a great deal of meaning for us today.
13. Why can we be sure that Jesus can help us find rest and refreshment?
13 Before Jesus issued his loving invitation, he stated: “All things have been delivered to me by my Father, and no one fully knows the Son but the Father, neither does anyone fully know the Father but the Son and anyone to whom the Son is willing to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:27) Because of this intimate relationship between Jesus and his Father, we are assured that by accepting Jesus’ invitation and becoming his disciples, we can enter into a close, personal relationship with Jehovah, “the God of all comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3; compare John 14:6.) In addition, since ‘all things have been delivered to him,’ Jesus Christ alone has the power and authority to lighten our burdens. Which ones? Those imposed by the corrupt political, commercial, and religious systems, as well as the burden imposed by our inherited sin and imperfection. What an encouraging and reassuring thought that is right from the start!
14. From what toiling could Jesus provide refreshment?
14 Jesus went on to say: “Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you.” (Matthew 11:28) Certainly Jesus was not speaking against hard work, for he often counseled his disciples to exert themselves in the work they had at hand. (Luke 13:24) But “toiling” (“laboring,” Kingdom Interlinear) implies prolonged and fatiguing labor, often with no worthwhile outcome. And “loaded down” carries the thought of being burdened beyond the normal capacity. The difference can be likened to that between a man digging for a hidden treasure and one digging ditches in a labor camp. They are doing similar hard work. With one, the task is eagerly undertaken, but with the other, it is an endless drudgery. What makes the difference is the purpose of the work or the lack of purpose.
15. (a) What questions should we ask ourselves if we feel that we carry a heavy burden on our shoulders? (b) What can be said about the source of our burdens?
15 Do you feel that you are “toiling and loaded down,” that there are just too many demands on your time and energy? Do the burdens you are carrying seem too heavy for you? If so, it may help to ask yourself, ‘What am I toiling for? What sort of load am I carrying?’ In this regard, a Bible commentator observed more than 80 years ago: “If we consider the burdens of life they fall into two classes; we may term these the self-imposed and the inevitable: those which are due, and those which are not due, to our own actions.” He then added: “Many of us would be surprised, after a strict self-examination, to find how large a proportion of the whole of our burdens the self-imposed ones are.”
16. What burdens may we unwisely impose upon ourselves?
16 What are some of the burdens that we might bring upon ourselves? Today we live in a materialistic, pleasure-loving, and immoral world. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Even dedicated Christians are under constant pressure to conform to the fashions and life-styles of the world. The apostle John wrote about “the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life.” (1 John 2:16) These are powerful influences that can easily affect us. It is known that some have been willing to go deeply into debt in order to enjoy more of the worldly pleasures or to maintain a certain life-style. Then they find that they must spend an inordinate amount of time on the job, or take on several jobs, to get the money to pay their debts.
17. What situation may make it even harder to bear the load, and how may this be remedied?
17 While a person may reason that it is not wrong to have or to do some of the things others have or are doing, it is important to analyze whether he is adding to his load unnecessarily. (1 Corinthians 10:23) Since a person can carry only so much, something must be put off in order to take on another load. Frequently, it is the things essential for our spiritual well-being—personal Bible study, meeting attendance, and the field ministry—that are being put off first. The result is loss of spiritual strength, which, in turn, makes it even harder to bear the load. Jesus Christ warned against such a danger when he said: “Pay attention to yourselves that your hearts never become weighed down with overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life, and suddenly that day be instantly upon you as a snare.” (Luke 21:34, 35; Hebrews 12:1) It is difficult to recognize a snare and escape it if one is loaded down and tired out.
Relief and Refreshment
18. What did Jesus offer those who come to him?
18 Lovingly, therefore, Jesus offered the remedy: “Come to me, . . . and I will refresh you.” (Matthew 11:28) The words “refresh” here and “refreshment” in Mt 11 verse 29 come from Greek words that correspond to the word that the Septuagint version uses to render the Hebrew word for “sabbath” or “sabbath-keeping.” (Exodus 16:23) Thus, Jesus did not promise that those who came to him would have no more work, but he promised that he would refresh them so that they would be fit for the work they must perform in harmony with God’s purpose.
19. How does one ‘come to Jesus’?
19 How, though, does one ‘come to Jesus’? To his disciples, Jesus said: “If anyone wants to come after me, let him disown himself and pick up his torture stake and continually follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) Hence, to come to Jesus implies submitting one’s own will to that of God’s and Christ’s, accepting a certain load of responsibility, doing so continually. Is all of this too demanding? Is the price too high? Let us consider what Jesus said after he gave the loving invitation to the tired ones.
Can You Recall?
◻ In what ways were the people of Jesus’ day burdened?
◻ What was the true cause of the people’s hardship?
◻ How should we examine ourselves if we feel heavily burdened?
◻ What burdens may we unwisely impose upon ourselves?
◻ How can we receive the refreshment Jesus promised?
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What are some of the burdens that we might bring upon ourselves?
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