St Augustine is writing about the Scripture passage, ‘Bear one another’s burdens and thus you will fulfil the law of Christ.’ (Galatians 6.2)
2. However, we would not bear each other’s burdens if those who were bearing their own were weak at the same time or in the same way as each other. Because we are weak at different times and in different ways, we can be strong enough to bear one another’s burdens. For example, you can put up with your brother being angry when you are not angry with him. At another time, when you are seized by anger, he will support you with his gentleness and calmness. That is an example of there being different times to bear one another’s burdens, but the same kind of weakness: both are cases of supporting each other’s anger.
We need to look at another example for different kinds of weaknesses: suppose that one person has overcome her talkativeness, but not yet overcome her stubbornness, while another is still talkative but no longer stubborn. The first ought lovingly to bear with the second’s stubbornness and the second with the first’s talkativeness, until each of them is healed of their respective weaknesses. Now if two people have the same weakness at the same time, they will not be strong enough to put up with one another when they get across each other. But when they are turning on a third person, then two angry people can agree and put up with each other. Then, however, they are described as consoling each other rather than putting up with each other.
Similarly, two people who are unhappy about the same thing support each other and rely on each other more than if one were unhappy and the other one happy. However, if they are unhappy about each other, they cannot put up with each other. Thus with feelings of this sort you have to accept a little sickness for yourself if you want someone else to be freed from that sickness through you. But you need to accept it to be strong enough to help, not to be strong enough to be equally unhappy. It is like bending down to give your hand to someone who is lying down. You don’t throw yourself down for you both to be lying down, but just bend over, to lift up the person who is lying down.
3. Nothing makes us more willing to put in the hard work of bearing one another’s burdens than thinking about the amount Our Lord endured for us. St Paul reminds us when he says, ‘Have the same mind in yourselves as Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God did not think he should grasp equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of man; and being found in human form he humbled himself , becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross’ (Philippians 2.4-8).
For this comes just after the words, ‘Each one, not focusing on his own interests, but on those of others’. The two phrases are connected, for ‘Have the same mind in yourselves as Christ Jesus’ follows directly from this. The point is this, then: he, by being the Word made flesh, dwelt among us and though he was without sin bore our sins and did not look to his own interests but to ours; similarly, then, we ought willingly to bear one another’s burdens in imitation of him. © Margaret Atkins 2004
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