Our New Testament lesson for today from Matthew 11:28-30 contains verses that might just describe what we need: rest. It presents a great invitation.
Jesus says, “Come to me all 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.”
We know what it is to need a rest, a break from the burdens of pandemic life. We’re like an old Peanuts comic strip. Linus is holding on to his security blanket. The caption reads, “Only one yard of flannel stands between me and a nervous breakdown.” Some of you know what Linus is talking about.
A young mother was describing a terrible day she had experienced. The washing machine broke down, the phone keep ringing, her head ached, and the mail carrier brought a bill she had no money to pay. Almost to the breaking point, she lifted her one-year-old into his high chair, leaned her head against the tray, and began to cry.
Without a word, her son took his pacifier out of his mouth and stuck it in hers. I know there are days like that, especially when we are home with our families much more than usual. We’ve been there or maybe today we are there.
So what does Jesus mean when he says he will give us rest by sharing his yoke. Do you know what a yoke is?
One little kid said, “I thought a yoke was a part of an egg.”
My farming ancestors knew what a yoke was, and it was probably something that Jesus as a carpenter’s son was familiar with. A yoke is a kind of crossbar with two U-shaped pieces that encircle the necks of a pair of mules or oxen. Just as two heads are better than one, two strong animals can move more weight when they pull together. Here are some things to know about yokes that also might apply to us as Christians.
Yokes were always custom fitted, one size does not fit all.
Yokes do not remove the load, they distribute the load.
Yoke-mates pull together as a team.
Yoke-mates are no longer free to do as they please.
Jesus often would find a familiar object to illustrate his point. People walking down the roads and fields of his day would see a yoke again and again and so he chooses this image to say, “Team up with me.”
There is an ancient legend that says, in the region of Galilee two thousand years ago, all the farmers knew where to get the finest yokes for their oxen. There was a certain carpenter in Nazareth famed for shaping and smoothing the wood so that the burden on their oxen would be as light as possible. Jesus probably made yokes in the carpentry shop with his father.
Christ is still in the business of fashioning yokes to ease the burdens of his weary humans. He still says, “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.
The best way to interpret this text is that when we are yoked to Jesus, he walks beside us and helps us bear our burdens. We don’t have to drag them all by ourselves. We are paired with Jesus and we are paired with each other to accomplish the tasks of discipleship.
On this Fourth of July weekend, we might think of the words at the foot of the Statue of Liberty inviting all to our shores.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to be free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Lady Liberty expresses the recognition of the needs of humanity and encourages them. Similarly, Jesus says gently, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. Watch the birds of the air, how freely they fly. Count the stars in the sky, remember who put them there.”
Take my yoke upon you. That’s what we call discipleship. That is what Christian living is all about. Not ease, but new equipping. Not burden free, but burden bearing. Not escape, but extra strength to do all we are challenged to do.
The Bible says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And then Jesus says, “You will find rest for your souls.”
This is not an invitation to nap in church, to nap through life. The invitation is not, “Come, let me tuck you in, and sing you to sleep.” The invitation is “Come, let me give you a reason for living, a zest for life, a lightness that will transform your days into joy and your work into celebration of your gifts, and your life into praise. Is that not the rest for which our souls truly long?
Spirituality author Richard Foster says, “In a country of noise, hurry, crowds, in a country of climb, push and shove, Jesus gives a different invitation. Jesus invites us to come into the living room of His heart, where we can put on old slippers and share freely, come into the kitchen of His friendship where we can chatter and batter and mix in good fun. Come into the workshop of his creativity where we can become co-laborers with God. Come into the study of his wisdom where we can grow and stretch and ask all the questions we want. Come into the bedroom of His rest where we can know and be known.
Come to Jesus all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens. Take His yoke upon you and learn from Him, and He will give you rest for your souls.
Please pray with me that we may take up our yokes and continue to follow Him together wherever he leads us.