At the time Jesus spoke these words, He was talking to a group of people who were literally carrying heavy burdens and were physically tired. I think we have to understand what He was saying to those people before we start turning it into metaphor. What kind of rest was Jesus offering to those who carried their belongings, their livelihood on their backs? They carried water from the well to their home. They carried grain from the field to their grindstone to mill into flour. They carried goods from the market and to the market. They carried their lives on their back. What kind of rest was Jesus offering them? Was he offering a rest for the weariness, or from the work itself, or both? If they did not work, they did not eat, or pay their taxes, or pay their creditors.
Yet when they came to Jesus, as in this instance in the text, they were not working. They were listening to Him. While they sat and listened to him, they weren’t busy doing all the other things of living. So in this sense, He was giving them rest. He was inviting them to stop from their labor and listen to Him for a while.
We place a high priority on work. We are to be commended for our diligence. But Jesus says sometimes we pause our busy schedules and pay attention to Him. He is as important as a paycheck. I would argue more important.
What we want to do is say that Jesus offers relief from stress and overwork in this passage. That simply giving our life to Jesus will allow us to keep doing all the things but with only half the stress as before. That’s not what He is saying. His audience worked everyday (but the Sabbath) just to survive, and He is calling them to rest. We work everyday to be comfortable. If it was about merely survival, we could probably make do with less, but we like our conveniences, like electricity and internet. Do you have time to stop and listen?
When you look at the context of Matthew 11:28, you will find on the next verse that Jesus offers rest for their souls. Doesn’t that mean this is a metaphor? Not necessarily. It seems to me in the larger sense that Jesus is offering rest because we no longer work for ourselves, or for the Man, but for Him. “My yoke is easy and my burden is light”. When we place ourselves under a His yoke, we find it slot easier. Less stressful? Yes. Less burdensome? Yes.
As you work today, consider who you are working for. Don’t forget to stop and listen along the way to the words of the Master. He offers true rest, a respite from the tyranny of labor and its curse. You will never be able to do it all anyway, for there is always more to be done. Like Mary, take time to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen.
God bless you today!