Whose Yoke Are You Under?

Published: January 22, 2013

Some passages of Scripture could be read before every counseling time, no matter what the circumstances.[1]  This is one of them.

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. (Matt 11:28-30)

Jesus is urging us to do two things: (1) come to him, and (2) share the effortless yoke of the gentle rescuer of our souls.

Come to me
This invitation is ridiculous. Jesus’ ministry was polarizing people. The Pharisees were increasingly contentious. People were seeing miracles but, like the Egyptian rulers with Moses, were unmoved. Normally, a rabbi receiving this much rejection would wash the dust from his shoes and move on to those who are his supporters. But, instead, Jesus invites. He invites everyone. This is simply incomprehensible. As the risen Lord, he continues to invite us.

All you who are weary and burdened
Some invitations are better than others, or at least there are some that catch our attention more than others. “Come network with other professionals”—that will appeal to some. “Come to the high-society wedding so you can see and be seen”— that will attract plenty. But this one—“Come, if you are weary from the hardships of life and think that becoming more religious will just be too much work, come”—it is hard to imagine why anyone would refuse.

And I will give you rest
“Come” is enough in itself. It breaks through the aloneness of a hard and burdened life. But “come and rest”? How did he know that rest and refreshment of soul is what everyone ultimately wants? Psalm 23 and still waters come to mind.

Both physical rest and spiritual refreshment are part of this invitation. The spiritual refreshment responds to the problems with the Pharisees’ teaching. Though Jesus calls us to even more careful attention to God’s commands than the Pharisees, the commands themselves are not burdensome. It is when those commands are part of a system that seeks to win approval from God by performing a long list of rote actions that religion is burdensome.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me
The highly personal nature of Christ’s kingdom presses on us again with the second part of his invitation to take up his yoke. Picture an oxen’s yoke. We are hitched together with Jesus and that brings loyalty, partnership, sharing, knowing, and working together. Where he goes, I go, and that yoke assures that I will be as close as possible during the journey, which means it is the best seat in the house for learning more of him and from him. Oh, and there is no need to worry about the oxen image, especially if that connotes slavish labor under harsh masters. Instead, work is good, and this is both good and highly meaningful work. It will only add to our refreshment.

Implicit in this invitation is that people were living under a religious yoke that was burdensome, and Jesus was inviting them to a much better fealty and yoke-partner. Whose yoke? If your yoke feels like a heavy burden then you are hitched to the wrong person and living a religion that is not really Christian.

For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls
We already know God is gentle and humble (Ex  34:6), but these words sound fresh and new when spoken by Jesus. He is the long-suffering, patient God who leads us as the servant-shepherd. Gentle and meek. For those who think that he is perennially ticked off and impatient, you have the wrong person. You must have him confused with a mere human. He offers rest, not turmoil or impossible expectations.

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light
Notice the way Jesus’ words are structured. There are two directives that are roughly symmetrical, and they end with rest. But this final addition draws attention to itself because it unbalances his words. Apparently, we can misunderstand or stumble over his comments about a yoke, so he offers us a little more.

This is a strange yoke. It is light, which means that Jesus is doing the heavy lifting. And he is lifting a lot. He kept the law on our behalf, he forgives us as we sin, and as we follow him we adopt his perfections and status as beloved by the Father. Given that he is the one who has done the heavy lifting, our following him—our obedience to him—should never feel like a burden (1 John 5:3).

So this is the standard for our counseling. It should echo this invitation, relieving burdens and offering rest. Whether we are talking about the hard circumstances of life or even sin, this invitation should sound good.



 


[1] Cecelia Bernhardt led a recent counseling supervision meeting with this passage.