5th Sunday after Pentecost, year A, preached 7/9/17
first reading: Zechariah 9:9-12
second reading: Romans 7:15-25a
gospel reading: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
The last verses of our gospel reading contain a much loved saying of Jesus.
“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.”
Problem is, in a society that’s become modern and mechanized, we can lose sight of one of the main images of this saying.
We “get” that Jesus wants to give us tired people rest. Lord, most of us LONG for rest. But the image of the yoke is lost on most of us.
The word “yoke” is unfamiliar to many outside of old farming circles. I’m not even sure how many farmers, at least in the United States, use yokes anymore. And we certainly don’t use the word in everyday conversation. But we miss SO much of Jesus’ message here when we skip over the meaning of the word “yoke.”
A “yoke” is a wooden frame, usually consisting of a bar with a collar-like piece at either end for attaching to the necks of a pair of draft animals, so that they can be worked as a team, OR a frame fitting over a person’s shoulders for carrying buckets at either end.
Either for human or draft animal, a yoke is basically a strong beam that you carry across your shoulders, that helps balance heavy weight.
The thing about yokes is that while they might make work easier, the work they help you do is neither easy or light. If draft animals or persons are using a yoke, there is certainly heavy lifting or pulling involved.
When we remind ourselves of what a “yoke” is the phrases “take my yoke upon you,” and “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” are better understood. Because often when we think of faith in Jesus, we have an expectation of “NO burden.”
We look at verses like these and think that Jesus is telling us to expect an easy life. “Light burdens” means smooth sailing, right?
Then when we hit rough patches, or if our life is FILLED with daily struggle we do one of two things: 1) we question our faith – “maybe I’m not believing enough,” or 2) we question God – “THIS is light? Thanks for nothing Jesus.”
But Jesus isn’t offering us smooth sailing here. He’s not giving us some magic baptismal spell to take our problems away; not some pop psychology that tells us “don’t worry be happy” (which is NOT the same as true important psychological treatment). He is not giving us the prosperity gospel which falsely claims that if we just do “a” “b” and “c” then God will bless us and we’ll overcome all our struggles.
What Jesus IS giving us the the way to CARRY our burdens – not make them disappear.
My view of this passage was forever changed when it was spoken to a dear friend at his ordination. These verses are often read during the ordination of a pastor, as they are presented with a stole around their necks.
Just weeks before his ordination, my husband and I attended the funeral of our friend’s newborn son, who died during delivery. When the bishop placed the stole on his shoulders and said, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” we ALL cried, even the bishop.
When we look at my friend’s grief and these verses, we might think God is playing some kind of cruel joke. What about that situation was easy and light? What about any of our burdens is easy or light?
And we’re brought back to the responses I mentioned a few moments ago – to question how good our faith is, or what kind of God we have. But it’s NOT a question of our faith being good enough, or God’s love being great enough.
You and I both know that there is no such thing as perfect faith – if there was, then Jesus died for nothing. And you and I both know that God’s love is greater than we will ever be able to understand or fell.
I hope and pray that WHEN we question – because we ALL do – that we are brought back to that yoke – the way our burdens are carried – Christ’s yoke. And that yoke is the CROSS.
The strong beam he carried for you and me, was the beam from which he was hung.
To “take my yoke upon you” means, for me, that the crossbeam that bore Christ is the yoke that holds you and me in his love and comfort and rest.
The yoke that he carried, becomes the yoke that saves you and me from ultimate hopelessness, loneliness, and despair.
The burdens in our lives, the things that make us weary to our bones, are the things Jesus wants to carry for us. Because of Jesus’ yoke, we are not left to carry the burdens alone. As we carry our burdens, Jesus is carrying us.
And when he talks to us about easiness and lightness, he’s not talking about a smooth sailing, don’t-worry-be-happy life. He’s telling us that he’s “got this,” he is with us, carrying us through. It’s light, because we don’t bear the burdens alone. We can rest, because we don’t bear the burdens alone.
“Take my yoke upon you,” is to cling to Jesus on the cross, to stop trying to carry our burdens all by ourselves. To give our burdens over, as much as we humanly can, because God knows we sometimes, even self-destructively, cling to our pain.
Jesus sees us as we struggle, and says, “Come to me.” Our yoke – the burdens we carry – is forever bound to his through our baptism.
Come to him, take the yoke of his cross, and lay all your burdens there. Allow Jesus to carry them, and carry you, so that you may have rest.