The word for “burden” (baros) means literally “a heavy weight or stone” someone is required to carry for a long distance. Figuratively it came to mean any oppressive ordeal or hardship that was difficult to bear, as in Matt 20:12, where Jesus spoke of the workers in the vineyard “who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”* It may also include a host of other yet unperceived or ignored burdens. (Matthew 11:28)
One thing for sure, I’ve been struck by how selective I can be in bearing the burdens of others. Burdens are burdens. The burdens of others are not neat, light, easy to manage, or convenient. Carrying, or bearing the burdens of others isn’t supposed to be about making us feel better. “Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves.” (Romans 15:1) I’ve met plenty, including the man in the mirror, who have patted themselves on the back after carrying another’s burden for the time of their own choosing rather than one that was sufficient for the other. Also, doing acts of justice/something good for others can often just be poor attempts at self-redemption. To be clear, Jesus said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28), but likewise and with Christlikeness, he bids us to do the same.
Bearing something is not simply picking it up and putting it back down again. It suggests rather, to carry or haul a heavy load, usually on one’s arms or back, for great distances. Everyone’s got burdens. Some are much more than we can handle or help with. Some burdens come from a moral lapse, some in the form of physical ailments, mental disorders, family crisis, lack of employment, grief, demonic oppression, spiritual crisis, and a host of other things; but no one is exempt from them. Even Creation itself groans with the burden it carries. (Rom 8:18–28)
God does not intend for us to carry them by ourselves in isolation from our brothers and sisters. To avoid the burdens of other’s by self-compartmentalization is tantamount to playing a god in their lives and ours rather than incarnating Jesus. It’s seeking superiority over sacrifice, domestication over discipleship, and recognition over reconciliation and redemption.
Stoicism teaches that the goal of the happy life is apathy. it’s a premeditated aloofness from pleasure and pain, a self-sufficiency, and the ability to brave the harsh elements of life without dependence upon others. A Roman philosopher, Seneca put it this way; “The primary sign of a well-ordered mind is a man’s ability to remain in one place and linger in his own company.” That sort of thinking is clearly anti-christ, anti-mission, and anti-church.
In order to bear other’s burdens, our eyes and hearts must be able to recognize a burden. Most burdens, those of others and ourselves, if we’re honest, have been cleverly camouflaged because they demonstrate weakness. Bearing the burdens of others and baring our own takes courage. Concealing our burdens is not self-sufficiency, it is pride. Bearing other’s burdens is an imperative mutuality. Jesus designed the body/the church to be priestly amongst each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Cor 12:25–26). Luther said that a Christian must have “broad shoulders and husky bones” in order to carry the burdens of his brothers and sisters.
Where this hits home…
The next time someone appears to be angry with you for no reason, or wants to share something with you that takes more time than you have, or is incessantly complaining, criticizing, or calling out others for acting inappropriately, realize that there might be a burden. Our response is not to cast them out, cut them off, or castigate, but to carry. It would be a courageous prayer that says, “Lord Jesus, help me to see the burdens of others and bear them.”
A few questions:
1. How do you identify burdens in others? What do they look like to you?
2. Have you been a good burden bearer?
3. Are there things we can do to become better burden bearers? What?
*George, T. (1994). Galatians (Vol. 30, p. 413). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.