Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
— Matthew 11:28
It’s been a rough week. For anyone who’s been having a rough time lately, this post is for you.
The Ragamuffin Gospel is a book about the essence of Christianity by former Franciscan priest Brennan Manning. Manning argues that Jesus’ gospel was one of grace, and that efforts to earn salvation are impossibly misguided. He states that the true meaning of God’s grace has been lost in society amidst a constant search to merely please God, as though the Almighty is only a “small-minded bookkeeper,” who tallies sins and uses them against humanity. Citing numerous biblical references and utilizing colleagues’ stories, Manning illustrates the simple need for humanity to accept the freedom of God’s grace, and its power to change lives. In the book, Manning discusses how we should handle distress. He says, that “For those who feel their lives are a grave disappointment to God, it requires enormous trust and reckless, raging confidence to accept the love of Christ knows no shadows of alteration or change.”
Manning wrote that when Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” He assumed we would grow weary, discouraged, and disheartened along the way. These words show the genuine humanness of Jesus. He had no romantic notion of the cost of discipleship, and it would be costly, all but one of the original apostles were executed for spreading His gospel. Jesus knew that following Him was as unsentimental as duty, as demanding as love. It is the same today. Those of us who follow Jesus know that there are times when the world looks so bleak. We see the hatred for diversity that consumes so many Christians today. The Reformation and the Catholic Counter Reformation occurred because of corruption in the Catholic Church, and once Protestants split from the Catholic Church, Christianity has continued to split in because of theological disagreements. The one thing that most of the near-infinite versions of Christianity have in common is that they have gotten away from the true message of Jesus. Many Christians want to hate or exclude those who do not conform to their version of Christianity, but Jesus preached inclusion and love.
We often hear the phrase, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” Christians repeat it as fast as they can recite John 3:16 (For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life) or Romans 3:23 (For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God). The problem is, Jesus never said, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” The Apostle Paul did not write it in any of his letters. Moses did not carve it into the tablets. King David did not sing it while playing his lyre. “Hate the sin, love the sinner” is not a Bible verse. Some have suggested that an early form of the phrase can be found with St. Augustine of Hippo, well over 300 years after the time of Jesus. Some believe the phrase is about God’s wrath in response to sin or about Jesus’ love for people. Over the course of the history of Christianity, the phrase evolved into a neatly packaged quip ready for quick and easy use. It is like opening a package of instant oatmeal or preparing a cup of instant coffee; here, though, we have instant judgment.
Yes, of course, I love you, but.… And off we go to judge others. We even consider the saying more authoritative than what Jesus does say in the Bible, such as Matthew 7:1 which says, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” The trouble with “hate the sin, love the sinner” is that the first part always gets in the way of the second part. The first part grants the license to judge others, to hold something against someone else. When a Christian says it, they are saying something about “the sinner” that blocks their ability to love them as God loves them. The mortal judge is saying there is something about the person that marks them as less than, as undeserving, as not being good enough for unconditional love. It is a short-sighted love. They are unwilling to see “the sinner” as anything more than what they do not like about the person.
Like Matthew 7:1, Jesus says in Luke 6:37-38, “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” In the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke, Jesus says we should pay attention to the big oak tree growing in our own eyes and distorting our vision. When we judge we get worked up about something that looks like a speck in someone else’s eye, but, truthfully, we can’t see much of anything with all that timber sticking out over our noses and blocking our view. If we could see perfectly and without any obstruction, if we could remove the log in our own eyes, we might discover that what we thought was a horrible speck of dirt in another’s eye in need of removal was just a benign eye freckle.
We all have physical and mental pain. Some more than others. Sometimes, we don’t see that pain in others, and we only see the pain in ourselves. Jesus knew that physical pain, the loss of loved ones, failure, loneliness, rejection, abandonment, and betrayal would drain our spirits. The day would come when faith would no longer offer any drive, reassurance, or comfort. Prayer would lack any sense of reality or progress. We would echo the cry of Teresa of Avila: “Lord, if this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!” However, when we are at our lowest point, we shouldn’t consider how we compare to others or dwell on our own problems. Instead, we should remember that Jesus tells us, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” In the darkest days of my life when I lost a dear friend or when I was constantly bullied as a teenager, I often thought about, “How can I end this misery?” The handful of pills I took as a teenager wasn’t the answer. The answer was believing that Jesus would understand my issues and “give me rest.”
That rest may come in many forms. As a teenager struggling to understand my sexuality, it turned out to be throwing myself wholeheartedly into my studies, graduating valedictorian, and moving away to college. When I lost my friend and found myself alone 1,200 miles away from any support system I had ever known, it was the people who read this blog and especially my friend Susan who helped me through it. The antidepressants helped as well. The truth is, I never got out of those deep dark holes on my own. Jesus sent me what I needed to pull myself up. Whether that was redirecting my mind, the love of a dear friend, or medication, it was God’s loving hand that got me through those dark days. He made sure that the handful of pills was not the answer, and he helped me work through my grief. It was not a quick and easy process and working through problems rarely is, but today, I am a happier man. This last week, I had some major depressive moments, but God gave me the strength to soldier on and look at other solutions. He “give me rest” when I needed it the most.