Come hither to me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, I will give you rest.
Over the next few days I’m going to be exploring Søren Kierkegaard’s exposition of the above verse as he writes in the opening chapter of his book Training in Christianity. While perhaps I wouldn’t read scripture in the same way he does, I have enjoyed his exploration of the call of Christ and the Gospel. Kierkegaard breaks down the verse and writes a short exposition after each point, and that is the pattern I plan to follow in these posts.
You can read part 1 here.
“Come hither all ye!” Wonderful! For that one who perhaps is impotent to give help to a single soul–that he with lusty lungs should invite all is not so wonderful, human nature being what it is. But when one is perfectly certain that he can help; when one is willing, moreover, to devote oneself entirely to this cause and make every sacrifice, it is usual at least, to reserve the liberty of selecting the objects of one’s care.
I have a bad habit.
More accurately, many bad habits, but this one is a little more endemic to being a Christian in the contemporary world.
It is the tendency to gloss over the words of Scripture, paying little attention to the implications of what we are reading.
The verse we’re following in Kierkegaard’s exposition is found the eleventh chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. This Gospel seems to be written with the view that it’s readership would be the Church, especially those undergoing religious instruction in the matters of the faith. Matthew records Jesus’ sermon on the mountain side in extraordinary detail, in neat blocks of ethical teaching. It is indeed recorded in such a way that it would be easy to read and learn.
However, Matthew does not seat Jesus’ life and ministry in a mythical universe or pantheon, as were many of the ancient ethical books and stories. No, Matthew is insistent that Jesus was a real man, who existed in the real world and interacted with real people.
Kierkegaard brings this element of the New Testament telling of the life of Christ into sharp focus:
Imagine a man, even a good man who has the means to help you. Perhaps you are hungry or thirsty or sick. It would be logical to go to the man who can help. Even still, he has the prerogative to decline to help you–why shouldn’t he?
Kierkegaard reminds me that it is ordinary for a human to offer help to some, and that what Jesus offers is extraordinary. It’s truly a miracle.
O, human self-sacrifice! even at thy fairest and noblest, when we admire thee most, there is still one act of sacrifice beyond thee, the sacrifice of every determinant of one’s own ego, so that in the willingness to help there is not the least prejudice of partiality.
Jesus, in offering his help for all, surrenders his ego. It is normal to expect a condition for help–our economies and relationships couldn’t survive without them–yet here we have a man offering himself without bias.
It might be easy to conceive of a mythical benevolence who helps all. But Kierkegaard does not permit me to entertain the thought. Jesus is a real man, yet a man unlike any other.
So far we have heard of Jesus calling to all, even going and offering his help without cost. Now we start to pick up some of the implications of this help. Indeed, as you continue to read scripture, allow yourself to conceive of Christ as a real human being. In that context, allow him to shine as a priceless jewel in the dirt of human existence. Summarised by the Dane himself:
What loving-kindness, thus to set no price upon oneself, entirely to forget oneself, to forget that it is he who helps, entirely blind to the question of who it is one helps, seeing with infinite clearness only that it is a sufferer, whoever he may be; thus to will unconditionally to help all–alas, in this respect so different from us all!