“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 NKJV).
The rickshaw van is one of the most common vehicles in South Asia. They are pedal-driven utility carts, tricycle style, with essentially a small flat-bed mounted above bicycle wheels behind the driver’s seat. They are often used for carrying people, but their real purpose is to transport cargo. Almost everything from cows to refrigerators to high stacks of farm produce can be seen regularly on them.
Rickshaw and van “pullers” (as they are called here; a term dating back to when such vehicles were not pedaled but were pulled by poles extending from the front of the bed – such pulled rickshaws are still used in Kolkata, India) are among the poorest workers in Asia. They rarely own their own equipment but pay daily rent. Their salary comes from whatever surplus they can earn that day.
It is very common to see a puller struggling to pedal his heavily loaded craft while the owner of the load is riding on top, adding his weight to that of the burden. The puller is struggling to bear the weight of another, plus the heavy load belonging to the other person.
Is that not a wonderful illustration of the great invitation which Jesus offered in Matthew 11? We are given the opportunity to shed our load and all of its burden, and let Jesus carry it (“pull” it) for us. And we do not even pay for that wonderful blessing – it is by grace (Ephesians 2:8-10).
That does not mean that we have no responsibility. What I have described previously sounds as if the owner of the goods is getting a free ride and is showing pure laziness. That is not true. The owner is not riding for his own pleasure, but to watch over the goods and ensure they arrive safely. He has his role to play, though it does not involve the heavy labor employed by the puller.
Those who contend that humans have no role in their salvation ignore many scriptures to the contrary (e.g., Philippians 2:12; Acts 2:38; John 3:16; Hebrews 12:1-2, Matthew 7:21). But our role does not burden us beyond our capacity to endure.
Notice that Jesus’ invitation does not teach that we may put off all burdens; we may only exchange ours for his. He will give us a load (that is, responsibilities and work to do) but his is light and may be borne even by weak mankind. Our burden of Sin is too great for any mortal. It will crush and destroy us (Romans 7:24). Only Jesus can spare us from that fate (Acts 4:12).
Many who hire rickshaw vans to deliver their goods are simply incapable of bearing such a load themselves. Owners of goods may be aged, or unwell, or even handicapped. Even younger, healthier men may not have the experience or be accustomed to the work which the puller does every day. Letting the professional do it is the wise and often the only choice.
That describes each of us perfectly. How foolish it is for us to insist on bearing all the guilt and shame of sin when it is certain that we must fail. We can never overcome sin. We can never atone for our guilt. Only Christ can relieve us. Exchanging our burden for his is the wise and only real choice.