Sixth Sunday After Pentecost (C)
July 8, 2007
It never really happened, I’m convinced, but the story is told of a man who climbed up on the Golden Gate Bridge to talk another man out of jumping. “Tell me why you are doing this,” he said to the desperate man. A half hour later, they both jumped. I’ll tell you why I don’t think it happened, but first listen to the Scripture reading, Galatians 6:1-5.
Some readers imagine a conflict between verse 2 and verse 5. “Carry each other’s burdens . . . each one should carry his own load.” Is this a contradiction? It helps to know that the word for “burden” in verse 2 speaks of a crushing weight, while a different word in verse 5 speaks of a backpack such as a soldier might carry on the march or a partner in a caravan. Let’s talk about both burdens.
1. There is a burden we ought to help each other bear (v. 2).
This includes the sin burden (v. 1). God wants us to seek to restore the fallen. Such work calls for meekness and gentleness. The word for “restore” (AV, NIV) is used of setting a broken bone. Christians help each other carry the load of sorrow and suffering that is the common lot of us all. In this way we fulfill the rule of Christ to love one another. In James this duty is the “royal law” of love for our neighbors (Jas. 1:25; 2:8). Such love is the law that liberates instead of wrapping us in bondage.
How does bearing one another’s crushing load fulfill Christ’s law of love? When I listen as you unload, two wonderful things happen: your load is lighter and so is my own. That’s the reason, by the way, that I don’t believe the two men jumped after a half hour of unloading burdens. Sigmund Freud stumbled on to something powerful he called “the talking cure” when a woman convinced him that she would get better if he would just let her talk to him. It worked. Her physical symptoms disappeared as she unburdened her heart day after day.
Little Susie went to the corner store for her mom and was gone a little longer than mom thought necessary. When she asked her what took so long, Susie told her that she saw little Annie with a broken doll. “Did you stop to help her fix it?”
“We couldn’t fix it, “said Susie, “But I stayed a while to help her cry.”
2. There is also a burden of our own to bear (v. 5).
J.B. Phillips translates this verse, “For everyone must shoulder his own pack.” There are burdens allotted for each of us to carry. It may be heartbreak, for everyone will have them. God knows what we bear. Indeed, if we let Him, He fits the load to our need.
There is a story about a burden exchange where everyone was invited to come and dump his or her load of care and then select a different one. In the end everyone went home with the same burden he or she brought.
It helps me to bear my burden if I remember a few things:
(1) My burden is less than I deserve. “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed. His compassions fail not” (Lam. 3:22-23).
(2) Whatever my burden, it is tempered by Romans 8:28, “…in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”
(3) It is relatively light and a very temporary burden with eternity’s perspective in view. (See 2 Cor. 4:17 and 1 Pet. 1:6.)
(4) I always have Jesus to help me. He invites me to bring my burden and find His rest (Matt. 11:28-29).
(5) And, as our text tells us, we have each other in the family of God. A pastor was going through a particularly difficult time in the church when some friends came by to visit. They brought a gift lovingly wrapped. When he opened it, it was a plaque with just the timely words he needed: “A sorrow shared is half a trouble, but a joy shared is joy made double.” (Austin B. Tucker)