[Jesus said,] “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, 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
During the months of June and July, we will explore in worship how we can grow as followers of God. How are we called to live out the teachings of Jesus in today’s world?
In the Gospel of Matthew, some of Jesus’ teachings can be hard to understand or grasp, because Jesus uses images relevant for people of the first century who lived very differently from many of us today. Some of Jesus’ teachings sound harsh or challenging to our ears, because the cost of following Jesus was much different in the first century than it is now.
Following Jesus in the first century could have steep relational consequences. Imagine what it might be like for your faith to cause your father or mother, sister or brother, partner or spouse, boss or colleagues to no longer speak to you or live with you or work with you.
How then can Jesus claim to give rest to the souls of his followers? In the passage above, Jesus uses an image from rural life that would have been readily understandable to his listeners in the first century. A yoke is a farming implement made of wood that helps a pair of animals, usually oxen, work together when pulling a load. This image was commonly used by Jewish teachers, like Jesus, known as rabbis, to speak about the work of following the Torah: God’s Law or instruction written in what we call the Old Testament.
Just like the yoke used in farming guides a pair of oxen in their work of bearing the burden of a plow or cart, the Torah guides its students in the work of bearing the burdens of daily life. Jesus claims in this passage from Matthew that his teaching not only guides his followers in the work of bearing the burdens of daily life but makes the burden of daily life lighter and easier to bear. Yet, how can this be when, for his disciples, following Jesus’ teachings meant being challenged and rejected by the people they cherish and love?
It is easy to find passages in the Bible that speak about subjects like morality, sexuality, gender, etc., and to interpret these passages as meaning certain people have somehow failed to properly bear the yoke of Jesus’ teaching. It is easy to use our interpretations to judge people – whether they be strangers, friends, family, or even ourselves – for their faults and shortcomings.
To do this, however, is to miss the point of Jesus’ lesson. Jesus’ yoke lightens the load that we carry in life because Jesus’ yoke is a teaching of love and forgiveness. When our relationships with ourselves, our family, our neighbors, and God are shaped by love and forgiveness, we find that suddenly the faults and shortcomings that could so easily weigh us down and keep us from being able to take another step are lifted away. We are free to live a life unburdened by shame or guilt. We are free to live a life answering God’s call.
I pray that this summer is an opportunity for you to rediscover the freedom that comes from following a God of forgiveness and love.
In Christ, Pastor Kat