In the Gospel reading of the Evening Raising of Incense for the Third Sunday of the blessed Coptic month of Hatour, we hear our Lord Jesus Christ speaking to us personally, saying, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).
These verses constitute our Savior’s invitation to follow Him despite our weaknesses. The person who labors and is heavy laden feels the weight of the world on his shoulders. In a true sense, what he is feeling is the fullness of sinful human condition. At this moment, our Lord Jesus Christ calls to Him and says, “Come to Me and I will give you rest.”
How does the Lord give us rest? The answer lies in the feast that we look forward to at the end of this Nativity Fast. Through His Incarnation, God manifested Himself and ministered to all mankind. He taught us, healed us, and gave us a pure and perfect example to follow. He took all of the weakness of our sinful human condition upon Himself when He took our flesh from the Most Holy Theotokos. And then He did something wonderful, a mystery beyond human comprehension: He sanctified our nature. As we pray in the Divine Liturgy of St. Gregory, our Lord Jesus Christ took our sinful, weak human nature and blessed it in Himself. He made Himself weak so that our weakness might be converted into strength through and in Him.
God did this for all of mankind. Our father among the saints, the great patriarch of Alexandria, St. Cyril, described how God called all men to Him that He might strengthen them in these words: “As the Maker and Lord of all, he spoke to the weary Jews who did not have the strength to bear the yoke of the law. He spoke to idolaters heavy laden and oppressed by the devil and weighed down by the multitude of their sins.” God ministered unto all men irrespective of their specific weakness. The Jews were weak under the Law — of course, not the Law as God intended, but the Law that was manipulated and rendered oppressive by the Pharisees and leaders of the Jews. The peoples of the nations — all of the non-Jews who worshipped idols — were weak under the yoke of sin and the authority of Satan. Our Lord called them and ministered to them just as He ministered to the Jews. We remember how the righteous Simeon the Priest, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, described our Lord’s ministry: “For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:30–32). Thus, before it began, Christ’s ministry to mankind was declared to be a universal ministry to all peoples irrespective their specific weaknesses.
For this reason, because our Lord ministered to our weakness without regard to our background or particular situation, we are called to minister to the weaknesses of others. This is what St. Paul teaches us in his Epistle to the Romans 15:1-7. This passage begins with the beautiful words: “We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me’” (Romans 15:1–4). So, our calling as Christians is to be the strength and support of those who are weak.
This may seem like a difficult calling, because when we look inwardly towards ourselves, we realize how frail and weak we are. How can we support others when we ourselves feel that we have no strength and no power to live the Christian life? At this point, we should remember the description of what happened to St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 12. He felt he did not have the strength needed to fulfill God’s calling to him to be an apostle. And so he pleaded with God three times to strengthen him. The Lord answered and said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). When St. Paul heard these words, his eyes were opened and he understood. He said afterwards, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). What St. Paul is teaching us is that, rather than use weakness as an excuse not to fulfill our Christian calling, we should accept and place our weakness before Christ so that He may strengthen us.
From this, we learn what it means to be weak in a Christian sense. The weakness that St. Paul spoke of is not laziness, shyness, timidity, or cowardice. It is not any of the things that prevent or tempt us from doing the right thing. Weakness in a Christian sense is not acceptance of our sins, such as when a person tries to justify his sins by saying, “I am only human.” Rather, weakness in a Christian sense is the awareness that we cannot achieve the greatness to which we are called unless God helps us. It is an understanding that we cannot live the life God intended for us unless we ask for His help. God calls each and every one of us to be His sons and daughters, to be His children by adoption. We cannot reach this state of perfect sonship unless God helps us. This is the weakness that St. Paul spoke about.
It is only in the context of this weakness that we can truly understand our Lord’s invitation to us, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30). When we see ourselves as we really are, Christ Himself comes and completes within us what is lacking. This is what He did in His Incarnation and this is what He continues to do in our own lives.