Bearing Burdens with the Spiritual Acts of Mercy

Bearing Burdens with the Spiritual Acts of Mercy

Bearing Burdens with the Spiritual Acts of Mercy.

“Continue bearing each other’s heavy burdens. In this way you will be fulfilling the Torah’s true meaning, which is upheld by the Messiah Christ. Keep carrying one another’s overwhelming loads, and you will be truly obeying Christ’s Royal Law of Love. By your ongoing offer to stoop down and help shoulder one another’s crushing burdens, you will be completely submitting to the way Christ expects us to live.” (Galatians 6:2).

Bear (Greek, “bastazo”) – to carry, to carry off; to take away, to take up with your hands; to shoulder or share a weight. This word is in the continuous present tense, which means to continue doing so, an ongoing effort and not a one-time activity.

Burden (Greek, “baros”) – a crushing load; an extremely heavy weight; an overwhelming burden; an oppressive weight too heavy for one person to carry alone.

Fulfill (Greek, “anapleroo”) – to accomplish in its entirety; to complete; to perform fully; to observe perfectly.

Law of Christ (Greek, “nomos”) – the teachings of the Messiah that highlight the intended meaning of the Law of Moses; Christ‘s words in the Gospels that clarifies the heart of Torah; the set of biblical expectations established by Jesus that reveals what the Lord had in mind in the Hebrew Scriptures; the spirit of the Law of Moses behind the letter of the Law, as expressed by Jesus Christ.

Bearing the Cross. Why was burden-bearing so near and dear to Paul’s heart, so much so as to believe that when one bears the burdens of others, one in fact is completing the expectations of Christ? Perhaps Paul focused on burden-bearing because this human act of love perfectly described what Christ did on the Cross for our salvation. The whole point of Christ’s burden-bearing was to heal and ransom us out of His profound love for us. Burden-bearing represents and demonstrates God’s love for us, and summarizes all that he did on Calvary. So when we bear the burdens of another, we are participating in the love Christ has for others. When we pick up our cross daily, we can’t help up but bear the burdens of others. “Surely it was our weaknesses He carried; it was our sorrows and our pain of punishment that weighed Him down. God has placed on Him the guilt and sin of us all… Through what He experienced, my Righteous Servant will make many righteous, in right standing before God, for my Servant bears the burdens of their sins.”  (Isaiah 53:4, 5, 11).

The Premise. Caring for others reflects the heart of God, and is grounded in the Biblical fact that all human life is sacred. There is a shared human dignity between all people, regardless of race, health, age, faith, status, station in life, the country of origin. Burden-bearing begins with those closest to us… our spouse, our children, our extended family, our church community, our neighbors in need, in that order. Any father or mother who, through a personal distance, or indifference, or overwork, or arrogant disdain, doesn’t bear the burdens of those closest to him/her in a personal and profound way, then that person is disobeying Christ. That person will not fulfill the law of Christ. That person does not reflect the heart of God.

Context – Burden-bearing can be applied to any excessive weight on a believer’s shoulders, including physical difficulties which call out for Physical Acts of Mercy. In this passage though, Paul seems to be directly applying this word to spiritual burdens… guilt from a particular sin; a difficult time of temptation; sorrow over spiritual failure; being overtaken by the weight of an unexpected sin or wrongdoing; the expressed need for forgiveness; a time of doubt; an obvious need for sound Christian teaching; the need for a fellow believer be warned about the path one is traveling. Whatever this spiritual burden might be, fellow believers are expected to be aware of the spiritual well-being of fellow believers, and then to helpfully carry that believer by bearing his burden, by helping to shoulder the weight of it. Paul is referring in this passage to matters that are spiritual in nature, something that is weighing excessively on a brother/sister’s spirit. Bearing someone’s burden is putting God’s agape love into action for neighbors who are weighted down, including those with spiritual and emotional needs. Spiritual Acts of Mercy, parallel to the Physical Acts of Mercy, are intended to spell out a model on how to treat others in a way that makes Jesus visible.

The traditional Spiritual Acts of Mercy listed below are works of kindness that are oriented towards a neighbor’s inner life of the spirit. They have been accepted, along with the Physical Works of Mercy, in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. These Works of Mercy have been popularized by what is known as Catholic Social Teaching, and are also included in Orthodox Catechisms as essential to the Faith.

  1. Admonishing those who have sinned;
  2. Teaching those who are untrained;
  3. Counseling those who have doubts;
  4. Comforting those who are sorrowful;
  5. Forgiving those who have been hurtful;
  6. Bearing patiently with others who wish you ill.
  7. Praying for those who are living and who are dead.

“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper (Paraclete), who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads you into all the truth… It is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Helper (paraclete) won’t come. When I do go away, then I will send Him to you. I will not abandon you as orphans.”  (John 14:15-18 and 16:7).

It would be fascinating and helpful if we connected these Spiritual Acts of Mercy with the role of the Holy Spirit as presented by Jesus in the Gospel of John. Jesus presents to us the ultimate Helper whom He named the “paraclete.” Paraclete is a Greek term meaning “called to come alongside of,” and is often translated as Helper in John. Paraclete is one of those rich biblical terms that cannot be described in one or two words. It means many things, and so translations vary in describing what a Paraclete actually does. The truth is that the Paraclete is called alongside each believer to be a divine Friend to us as we follow God. The Spirit of the Lord has numerous roles as He comes alongside of us. The meaningful point to make here is that the “Paraclete” seems tailor-made to enable each believer to demonstrate the Spiritual Acts of Mercy with those in need. Fleshing out the roles of the Paraclete by means of the acronym below highlight the vital connection we can make between the Holy Spirit and the Spiritual Works of Mercy.

P     Points to Jesus and Glorifies Him (John 16:13-14).

A     Advises and Counsels (John 14:26).

R     Reminds us so as to promote Understanding (John 14:26).

A     Advocates for and Defends (1 John 2:1).

C     Comforts and brings Peace (John 14:27).

L     Loves and Convicts (John 14:16, 16:8).

E     Exhorts and Coaches (Romans 12:8).

T     Teaches and Guides into Truth (John 14:26 and 16:13).

E     Encourages and Inspires (Romans 1:12; Acts 4:36; Colossians 2:2-4).

As you can see, the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, has a wide-ranging helping style that is called to come alongside us in order to Point us to JesusAdvise and Counsel usRemind us in order to UnderstandAdvocate for usComfort usLove us and Convict usExhort and Coach usTeach and Guide us, and Encourage us. Jesus has poured forth His Spirit to be our True Companion, enabling us to mature into the likeness of Christ. Once again, here we see another vivid picture of how God takes us under His wing, the wings of the Dove, His Holy Spirit.

“Let us be paracletes to each other.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Coming alongside each of us, the Spirit invites and empowers us to become little paracletes, to prayerfully come alongside others as kind helpers in the spirit of burden-bearing, offering to those in need a ministry of presence and healing. The truth is that we are only empowered to engage in the Physical or Spiritual Acts of Mercy when we have been enabled to do so by the Paraclete. Christian believers are enabled to be little paracletes, bearing the burdens of others through Works of Mercy, when we are inspired and empowered by the Big Paraclete.

Instructed by our own sorrows and our own sufferings, and even by our own sins, we will be trained in mind and heart for every work of love for those who are in need of love. To the measure of our ability, we will be consolers in the image of the Paraclete in every sense that this word implies: advocates, helpers, bringers of comfort. Our words and our counsel, our manner, our voice, our glance, will be gentle and tranquil.” (Cardinal Newman, as quoted in Come, Creator Spirit by Fr. Cantalamessa).