It is Jesus Christ in his lowliness who is the speaker. It is historically true that he said these words; but so soon as one makes a change in his historic status, it is false to say that these words were spoken by him. This poor and lowly man, then, with twelve poor fellows as his disciples, all from the lowest class of society, for some time an object of curiosity, but later on in company only with sinners, publicans, lepers, and madmen; for one risked honor, life, and property, or at any rate (and that we know for sure) exclusion from the synagogue, by even letting one’s self be helped by him—come hither now, all ye that labor and are heavy laden! Ah, my friend, even if you were deaf and blind and lame and leprous, if you, which has never been seen or heard before, united all human miseries in your misery—and if he wished to help you by a miracle: it is possible that (as is human) you would fear more than all your sufferings the punishment which was set on accepting aid from him, the punishment of being cast out from the society of other men, of being ridiculed and mocked, day after day, and perhaps of losing your life. It is human (and it is characteristic of being human) were you to think as follows: “no, thank you, in that case I prefer to remain deaf and blind and lame and leprous, rather than accept aid under such conditions.” “Come hither, come hither, all, ye that labor and are heavy laden, ah, come hither,” lo! he invites you and opens his arms. Ah, when a gentlemanly man clad in a silken gown says this in a pleasant, harmonious voice so that the words pleasantly resound in the handsome vaulted church, a man in silk who radiates honor and respect on all who listen to him; ah, when a king in purple and velvet says this, with the Christmas tree in the background on which are hanging all the splendid gifts he intends to distribute, why, then of course there is some meaning in these words! But whatever meaning you may attach to them, so much is sure that it is not Christianity, but the exact opposite, something as diametrically opposed to Christianity as may well be; for remember who it is that invites!
And now judge for yourself—for that you have a right to do; whereas men really do not have a right to do what is so often done, viz. to deceive themselves. That a man of such appearance, a man whose company every one shuns who has the least bit of sense in his head, or the least bit to lose in the world, that he—well, this is the absurdest and maddest thing of all, one hardly knows whether to laugh or to weep about it—that he—indeed, that is the very last word one would expect to issue from his mouth, for if he had said: “Come hither and help me,” or: “Leave me alone,” or: “Spare me,” or proudly: “I despise you all,” we could understand that perfectly—but that such a man says: “Come hither to me!” why, I declare, that looks inviting indeed! And still further: “All ye that labor and are heavy laden”—as though such folk were not burdened enough with troubles, as though they now, to cap all, should be exposed to the consequences of associating with him. And then, finally: “I shall give you rest.” What’s that?—h e help them? Ah, I am sure even the most good-natured joker who was contemporary with him would have to say: “Surely, that was the thing he should have undertaken last of all—to wish to help others, being in that condition himself ! Why, it is about the same as if a beggar were to inform the police that he had been robbed. For it is a contradiction that one who has nothing, and has had nothing, informs us that he has been robbed; and likewise, to wish to help others when one’s self needs help most.” Indeed it is, humanly speaking, the most harebrained contradiction, that he who literally “hath not where to lay his head,” that he about whom it was spoken truly, in a human sense, “Behold the man!”—that he should say: “Come hither unto me all ye that suffer—I shall help!”