Our Gospel reading this Sunday, Jesus talks about the yoke that he offers us.
Matthew 11:28-30. “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.”
[Slide – picture of a yoke for two]. A yoke is typically a piece of wood that is secured over the necks of two animals. It is then attached to a plow or cart that they are to pull. So when we think of a yoke, we think of a burden. It is work to have a yoke on our shoulders and then to plow the fields or to pull a cart.
What yoke are you carrying? [SLIDE – picture of a person with a yoke]. We have burdens that we hold up and sustain in our lives. These responsibilities include making a living, supporting our families, running businesses, managing our lives. If we are not caring for children, then perhaps we are helping parents.
Other burdens are not so visible, and we carry them inside ourselves. I want to read to you two quotes. The first one is from Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind. She said, “Until you have lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was or what freedom really is.” The second one is from the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
What yoke are you carrying? What is your burden in life? I enjoy burying myself in scripture weekly as I prepare these sermons, and I appreciate how it shapes me. I woke up the other day, and something of worry popped into my head, and I heard the words of Jesus, “Hand this over to me.” It was a thought that filled my head with comfort. It reminded me that I am not alone. That was enough for me in that moment.
You see, a traditional yoke has room for two creatures. [SLIDE – picture of a yoke with 2 animals]. Jesus tells us that his yoke is easy. I think it is because, while we occupy one space under that yoke, Jesus fills the other. It’s like having to plow the field, but your partner is a superhero. My wife would pick Chris Hemsworth or Thor as her yoke partner. But the truth is, Jesus is our partner.
We all choose our yokes in this life. We think that we break free of one yoke, only to carry the burden of another. Maybe we seek financial independence and break free of a particular economic class, only to find that sustaining a particular lifestyle is burdensome. Perhaps we want to look a certain way or live a certain way and that drives us. We think it motivates us, but in reality, it is a yoke we choose to fasten across our neck.
Maybe our yoke is one of social status. We place a particular group of people as meaningful in our lives, and other’s less significant. I can think of times when, after someone has asked me a series of questions, says “Oh, you are one of ‘those’ people who believe such and such.” They pass judgment on me. That’s a burden when we decide who is worthy or not of our acceptance and attention, when we choose a class of people to share our yoke with, instead of Christ.
Jesus says that His yoke is easy. Jesus’ yoke, or burden, is one of following the law or Torah. In Harper Collins Bible, in the commentary on the bottom, it refers to yoke being a Jewish metaphor around “obedience to the Torah.” (Harper Collins Study Bible, p. 1687). ‘Yoke’ is a metaphor used by the Rabbis and refers to the task of obedience to God as challenging, yet joyous.
[SLIDE “The Yoke of Jesus:
1 - Can be difficult at times
2 – Fills us with joy
3 – Gives us rest]
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. God knows that we need to rest. In Judaism, Sabbath occurs for all humanity, a day of rest, which is not just limited to humanity every week. The animals rest too. Even the land is given a rest from having to grow and produce every so many years. [SLIDE – picture of farmland]. Rest is built into God’s plan. Rest is a part of wearing the yoke that Christ offers and carries with us.
When we carry the yoke that Jesus offers, we can do more and go farther together. Two are stronger than one, and not simply by a doubling factor. Two together can do more than two separately. This brings us joy as we live and work in community together.
When carrying this yoke, we must submit to it. We must agree to share it with Christ and each other. You know I talk a lot about culture, but carrying the yoke of Christ is little counter-cultural in America today because of our country promotes individualism and we have a rebellious human nature.
For example, we are in a time in this country when we need people to wear masks to protect each other, but there is a degree of resistance. My daughter was working at a food service job a few weeks ago. [SLIDE – picture of a food service worker wearing a mask]. A woman approached the counter and was directing my daughter on how to prepare her food. Unbeknownst to her, my daughter's mask had slipped below her nose. The customer asked my daughter to please lift her mask above her nose, which she promptly did. Meanwhile, the customer who asked this of my daughter wasn’t wearing a mask. The mask is meant to protect other people.
You all know that I am a medical person, and I am going to say that we are all going to need to wear masks in order to protect each other. It is an adjustment in our lifestyle that I am working on as well. We know that masks protect against the spread of germs, that is why nurses and surgeons wear them during operations. We know that they make a difference and save lives. For the past several months, I have been wearing a mask every time I see a patient. I have cared for patients through their entire hospitalization who have never seen my face.
I bring this example up because it is a part of our DNA to resist sharing a yoke. It is part of our sinful nature to resist God. When God says in Genesis, “Just don’t eat of the fruit of this tree” and we go and mess it all up. When we share the yoke of Christ we are saying, “I want to live by your laws.” Living by God’s laws means caring for each other.
In Moslem Spain around the 10th and 11th centuries, some 1,000 years ago, there lived a wealthy Jewish scholar named R. Samuel Hanagid. He wrote on many things, and that rulers should forgive the misdeeds of the people and work on behalf of the benefit of the poor (A History of the Jewish People, p.457). That sounds like someone who understands the yoke of Jewish law the way Jesus understands it. Wouldn’t it be great to open up our internet pages and read less of the failings of our leaders in the world and more of how they forgive each other and work on behalf of those who are in need? Jesus says, [SLIDE “Matthew 11:29. I am gentle and humble in heart]. That is the kind of leadership that our world needs right now.
My daughter said it well. She said, “Over the years, human nature doesn’t change, just the context” (Hanna Knauss, July 3rd, 2020). How many times do we say we believe the Ten Commandments and then bend the rules and laws to suit our own needs? I only say this because I know that I am guilty of it myself.
[SLIDE Matthew 11:29. 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.”].
Jesus tells us that his yoke is easy. Christ tells us that his burden, to follow God's laws, is at times difficult, but filled with joy. There are days then the yoke feels heavy, but know that God carries the greater share. Though we feel alone, Jesus is there alongside us. The yokes of this world offer us no rest. Jesus offers us rest and peace in a world that is too much to bear without God. When you rest this weekend, and in the days to come, know that God creates that rest for you and me. AMEN