Lent seems an opportune moment to explore the burden of Jesus. The Pope said recently that Lent was a great time to come home. I think this was what got me thinking. The idea of coming home, of returning to what is important, to re – focus is of course very much part of the Lenten journey. Apart from the specifics of giving up something or doing something special for Lenten, my overall hope is that by the time I get to that beautiful and sacred moment of the Washing of the Feet on Holy Thursday night I will be that little bit closer to Jesus. Essentially my hope is that my Lenten journey will bring me into a new place. I mean a new place for my soul. This new ‘soul place’ would be characterised by at least a slightly deeper knowledge, understanding, and love of Jesus.
Recently as a result of some prayerful reflection I found myself thinking of the suffering of Jesus. It struck me that we tend to focus on the big dramatic moments of the Passion: the Carrying of the Cross, the Crowning with Thorns, the Scourging at the Pillar and the Crucifixion itself. I found myself drawn to other aspects of the suffering of Jesus. Perhaps the agony in the garden was the most immediate or obvious of these. However I soon realised that both the Cross and the Garden were avenues into other aspects of the burden of Jesus. For the purpose of this short piece I mean that the Cross led me to meditate on the physical sufferings of Christ and the Garden more towards his psychological suffering. I appreciate this is a gross oversimplification. However they do provide us with at least the desire to explore the notion of the burden of Jesus.
Let me stay with the garden for a moment. Sometimes a garden can become a wilderness. Sometimes even the most beautiful of gardens can have a bit of a wilderness at the bottom or in the corner. There is a connection between garden and wilderness. Maybe you would not mind visitors to your garden but you may be less comfortable with them in your wilderness. Even in the case of Jesus there is a connection between his garden, Gethsemane, and the wilderness that he was ‘driven’ into. This is the wilderness that Jesus inhabited with Satan, wild beasts and angels. The torment and strain of these forty days is something which can be easily missed. Jesus was tempted repeatedly. This is another example of the burden of Jesus that we can easily take for granted. Do we ever take time to consider that Jesus was burdened by the human condition. In something like the Passion we see as it were in technicolor and hear in Dolby stereo the enormity of the ‘big suffering’ of Jesus. Surely though if we only encounter this we miss a lot of what constitutes the ‘burden of Jesus’?
Is your burden a big difficult moment? Clearly sometimes it is. It can be a moment of madness that fills us with regret. It can be that moment in which our life changed. That said, is it not the case that for most of us the burden we carry is less dramatic. Our burden, whilst difficult, is more mundane. Our burden is less a splash of the spectacular and more often than not almost more boring than that. Our burden is not so often a crazy wave of sharp pain but more often in the realm of the dull nauseous ache. Our burden tends to be more constant than the one off. Our burden tends to be more in the area of personality, and sexuality and the cultural and social context that has shaped us. At least some of our burden is not so much the external of what happens us but perhaps what we carry within us, or at least what we do with what happens to us externally. Is it possible that this is also true of Jesus?
Did the baby Jesus suffer teething? Did the adolescent Jesus have spots?
If you say no, why not? Do you say no to these questions and a myriad of others like them because you have a particular understanding of who Jesus was? What does it mean to claim that Jesus was both God and Man? How do we avoid diluting, or over stating, either his humanity or divinity to the detriment of the other? Could it be that Jesus carried much more than we realise? Could it be that long before he gets near Gethsemane or Golgotha, he is burdened by the humanity that he has undertaken? Certainly long before the Via Dolorosa he lives in the shadow of death with the constant threat of violence hanging over him. Surely we do not think that his temptations were confined to the wilderness? Surely we do not think that his battle with Satan was restricted to forty days? The reality of the burden of Jesus is that it was more subtle, more all pervasive and more constant than we might imagine.