“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” [Matthew 11: 28-30]
I was reminded of this passage recently. Certainly the first line has always brought me solace but, in the past, when I have come across this scripture, the words have confused me, seeming to contradict one another. How can a yoke be easy or a burden light? And, in the past, I have stopped short when it became too difficult but today I feel like wrestling.
Doing some research, I learn from William Barclay that in Jesus’ time a ” Rabbi’s “yoke” was his teaching, interpretation, and application of the Torah. A student or disciple who followed the Rabbi took on his yoke, meaning the sum of requirements for fulfilling the Law as taught by that particular Rabbi. The symbolism is clear; a teacher’s yoke represented the obligations and sacrifices—the “burdens”–required of his followers.”
I learn also that in its agricultural use, a yoke was tailor made for the animal that bore it and that often a younger and older animal were paired up under one yoke. Clearly, the younger animal was to learn from the older, more experienced animal and be led in a sense even though they walked side by side.
With these allusions in mind, I reread the passage and I discover a new meaning. Jesus is saying that rather than burden me with tedious and overbearing laws, the requirement to be his follower is relatively light. Just one…to love.
Secondly, the yoke I will bear has been custom made for me in the sense that I have been known to Jesus and beloved even before my birth. So the yoke I share with Jesus is unique to me, fits only me. Its easy…not necessarily “easy like Sunday morning” but easy in the sense that it will not feel unnatural to me or ask me to become someone I am not.
Then I stop to think of my burdens. What are they? I read one commentary that said the search for truth had completely exhausted the people of Jesus’ time. I can certainly relate to this.
I am thoroughly exhausted of trying to save myself with the latest idea, newest book or coolest program. I am tired of trying to look perfect, have the perfect life or be perfect. None of that works. I am tired of feeling guilty and ashamed when my latest plan doesn’t get me where I think I should be. I am tired of being disappointed in myself for failing, for giving into my temptations.
Compared to shouldering this burden, the offer to yoke, or unite myself to Jesus and finally receive rest is such an amazing one. What holds me back? Is it that the offer sounds too good to be true? Is that after all this time I still don’t trust Jesus…I don’t know who he really is or whose I am?
The good news is that the offer doesn’t expire and my desire is great…rest for my soul. I close my eyes, breath deaply and feel myself falling.