Taking the Yoke

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:30

I have never wanted to be a burden to anyone. Since my younger days, I have always taken care of myself. Well, that all changed when I fell and broke my ankle this past Sunday night. Since I do everything to the best ability, I did not just break it; I broke it in two places, tore the ligaments, and will require surgery. This means I will have to stay off my feet for eight weeks. I have now become a burden to my family, and it is not an easy position for me to be in.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus speaks about his yoke being easy and his burden being light. Although this is true in theory, I am not so sure how easy the load is in practice. Remember, Jesus left us a new commandment to love God and love everyone else, including our neighbor, without exception. This is not easy.

I have used this example before. Close your eyes and think of the person you despise the most. It can be someone close to you or someone from history, but at least make it a real person. Now that you have that person in your mind’s eye, that is the person Jesus is calling us to love. You might think it impossible to love this person. However, Jesus also says that with God, all things are possible.

We have two images to explore from this passage, yoke and burden. Both are agricultural references that those listening to Jesus would have understood. For us, it is not so easy to understand.

The yoke is a wooden structure placed over two animals’ heads, usually oxen. The yoke has two purposes. The first is to force the animals to work together. It reminds me of the three-legged races we participated in as children. If we did not work together, we would work against each other, and the job was much more challenging.

The second purpose of the yoke is to teach. The farmer would never yoke together oxen that were untested. The farmer would pair an experienced ox with a lesser or inexperienced ox for the amateur to learn. Being yoked together requires teamwork, and the younger will be forced to learn from the older, more experienced ox.

We were yoked to Christ and the community at our baptism. Another may have vowed on our behalf, but we are still yoked. As we mature in the Christian faith, I hope we confirm or reconfirm that vow publicly. The confirmation service of the Church is a public declaration that you will be yoked with Christ and the kingdom forever.

A burden, by definition, is a load, typically a heavy one. The command I mentioned can be considered a burden to some, maybe too many. When I was ordained, a stole, that piece of cloth I wear when presiding at worship, was placed around my neck. The stole symbolizes pastoral authority and responsibility and is often called the yoke of office. As the stole is set, the minister is reminded of the burden of this office, not in a bad way, but rather in a profound way. There have been times in ministry when I have found this yoke and burden too easy, and at other times, well, not so much.

Just before all this talk about yokes and burdens, Jesus calls us to come and rest. Now, this might conjure up images of a great sofa that we can all stretch out on, but I am not sure Jesus was inviting us over for a slumber party; I think there was some other reason for this invitation.

Jesus is saying that although ministry and ministering can be difficult and a burden, we are not alone. We are spiritually yoked together to help and assist one another as we minister together. Although one animal can perform the task alone, the work is accomplished more efficiently and with less stress and strain when more than one pulls on the rope. We are yoked together to support one another and to teach and learn from one another.

The yoke is a partnership and equal partnership between you and God and God and us. It is also a partnership between us and those we serve with and those we serve. For any partnership to work, the work must be shared equally amongst all the partners, not just a few. Sure, we each have our gifts, but the hope in partnership is that when we all work together, all our skills will be used to complete the task.

So, accept the invitation of Jesus to come and find rest; the work is too important to go it alone. Come and find rest; Jesus will help you shoulder the burden.


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