Today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel comes after a discourse in which Jesus reproaches people who have witnessed his mighty deeds yet still lack belief. In this context, today’s Gospel explains the reason for this unbelief and reveals what is necessary for faith, and also continues to enhance our understanding of discipleship as last week’s Gospel did. Jesus prays aloud to God, in thanks for having hidden the purposes of what God is up to in Jesus from the wise and wonderful of his age. He then says something that has become so famous that you could be forgiven for not truly listening to what he says: “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.”
We are all weary and heavy-laden. Each of us is dealing with something, or a whole litany of somethings. But Jesus is inviting us into something completely different. Jesus first names our spiritual state. This is an amazingly compassionate thing to do, to notice and name, to tell the truth of a situation. Sometimes it is enough simply to have someone notice our weariness and burdens. This noticing, without judgment or fixing, is a lesson in empathy for all of us. That might be the distinction between empathy and pity, by the way.
Then Jesus invites us to take his yoke upon ourselves. This is an interesting image that most of us might not understand. A yoke is for a donkey or other beast of burden. It is a collar that harnesses the animal for whatever work that the master wants the animal to do, like pulling a cart or ploughing a field. The yoke is a symbol of servitude and labour. But the yoke that Jesus is offering is easy and light.
What does this mean, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light”? In our world and society, clever and never-ending marketing would have us believe that each and all of us are deficient in some way. Jesus and, God, accepts us precisely where and what we are with no exceptions. The world has become exceedingly sophisticated in laying heavy burdens upon us. The largest companies in the world deploy deeply effective psychological understandings on us to encourage us to feel that we must buy into some lifestyle to be the happiest or most authentic self we can. This has been captured most recently by the acronym “FOMO,” or “fear of missing out.”
Now the world is not some separate creation or arena of evil. The world, as the church has usually described it, is that which does not proclaim Christ as Lord, so it does not live by the light burdens of Jesus and instead heaps up heavier and heavier burdens.
Jesus does not expect or desire for us to take on more and more, his burdens are an unburdening. His work is a rest. What this looks like in a daily practice is a constant reminder that we are enough, we are sufficient. This is not some mere positive thinking, feel-good humanism. Our sufficiency with God is not about our own inherent goodness, though there may well be some inherent goodness in us, it is about God’s goodness and love and acceptance of us. So, we remind ourselves every day of God’s goodness and love.
And then, we can extend God’s love to those whom God presents us with each day. The yoke of Christ does not prevent all pain, or take away our sorrow and burdens. Rather, the yoke teaches us that these burdens can be shared, transformed, taken up into the heart of God, and returned to us as life. That’s the kind of yoke, too, that Jesus offers one that fits, one that promises strength and rest.
Jesus invites us today to wear that yoke the one he offers. It’s a yoke that promises strength. It’s a yoke that promises rest. It’s a yoke that promises life. Jesus offers us a yoke that fits. And, when we wear it, he promises to walk beside us every step of the way.