Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT) 28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
Found only in the Gospel of Matthew, these words from Jesus have stood as an incredible point of both hope and promise. There’s hope in knowing that there is rest for the weary, contrary to the popular phrase. There’s also promise in knowing that Jesus will give us this rest.
Not one to shy away from a good metaphor, Jesus this time uses the imagery of farm equipment to teach, well you guessed it, a group of people who farmed for a living. I don’t know if this would be helpful for you, but when I read passages, much like this one, I tend to ask the passage questions. Almost like I’m talking directly to Jesus and allowing him to answer me. Here’s what it looks like for me:
“Come to me, (Who should come to you?) all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and…(Why should I come to you?) I will give you rest. (How will you give me rest?) Take my yoke upon you. (That doesn’t sound easy.) Let me teach you (Why should I let you teach me?), because I am humble and gentle at heart, (So what?), and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
When you carefully place yourself in the context of the story, you find yourself allowing Jesus to speak directly to your heart. I have to believe that there are some who are reading this today and you need to allow Jesus to speak directly to your heart.
There’s a couple of things that we can learn from this passage today. Obviously one of the most important is that only Jesus can provide rest for our souls. Notice that Jesus doesn’t give us rest from our work; this passage is not referring to the physical, but instead focuses it’s attention on the spiritual. However, Jesus’ “rest” does includes placing a “yoke” on our shoulders. This is interesting…
When a yoke is first placed on the shoulders of the ox, the ox will rebel against the yoke. It doesn’t quiet feel right. But when the ox surrenders to the yoke, and puts his shoulders to the task of pulling his burden, he finds that the yoke makes the job of pulling the burden much easier than it would have been otherwise.
The listeners in this passage would have been familiar with these two forms of yoke; First the physical yoke used over the shoulder of an ox, and second the yoke, or “teaching” that reminded them of the Jewish Law. Immediately upon hearing Jesus’ words, the Jewish listeners would have heard Lamentations 5:5 (RSV) 5 With a yoke on our necks we are hard driven; we are weary, we are given no rest. Israel’s return from slavery in Egypt is described as a release from the “yoke” of servitude. Leviticus 26:13 (NIV) “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high”
In this moment, Jesus is both reminding the people of what God did for them and their people, as well as educating the Pharisees that their “teaching” has created a heavier burden then is required.
I wonder how heavy our yoke is today? I’m not referring to the yoke placed over our shoulders, for Jesus didn’t say we would be without a burden, he just said it would be lighter than rules bases system of the Pharisees. Instead, I’m talking about the yoke we tend to place on the shoulders of the people around us.
I wonder if sometimes we too get caught placing a yoke on people that Jesus never intended for them to carry.