As I was reading this passage in Matthew, I was struck by the incredible contrast between the first and second sentences. In the first, Jesus is offering an invitation. He invites all who are weary, all who are tired of the evil in the world, jaded by the lack of empathy, shattered by the mass killings of children by children, overburdened, dissatisfied—done. To these people, Jesus issues a summons and a promise: “Come to me … and I will give you rest.”
This sentence I really, really like. I want to go to Jesus. I want to bring the entire world’s mess and heartache, drop it at his feet and say, “Ok, here it is. I am weary and burdened, I am coming to you. I am bringing with me an oppressive mass of pain and sorrow. Here it is. Now please take care of it, fix it … and give me your rest.”
I know it is incredibly presumptuous to demand this of God. And yet, he made the offer … in that first sentence.
But then there is the second sentence: “Take my yoke upon you …”
I have lived in a small city my whole life. I have running water, electricity fed by wires, natural gas available at the flip of a switch, neatly packaged food sitting in my fridge. I don’t know much about farming, oxen, or yokes. But Merriam Webster describes a yoke well, “a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals (as oxen) are joined at the heads or necks for working together.”*
So after Jesus promises his peace in the first sentence of the Matthew passage, he then reveals his strategy, or the “how,” in the second. He doesn’t want us to drop off our burdens, wipe our hands clean and wait for his peace. He wants us to yoke ourselves together with him. He has a job he wants us to do, and wants us to do it together.
If I had to move a plow by myself, I wouldn’t get very far. Maybe I could budge it a wee bit, maybe not even that. Probably I would just wear myself out kicking at it with my non-steel-toed city boots.
But Jesus says to yoke ourselves together to him. Bear a yoke with God incarnate.
It is also interesting that he calls it “my yoke” (emphasis mine). He cares about our weariness and burdens, but ultimately the weight of the burden is his to carry in his way, in his wisdom. He has a plan, a job to do, and invites us to help carry it out. And again the God of all mercy, compassion, love, power and justice makes a promise: he will teach us what to do. He says “learn from me,” a teacher that is “gentle and humble in heart.”
It is one of God's strange and amazing truths: during the work, in that growing relationship with Jesus as we learn to love and trust him—through the sharing of his yoke—we actually do find “rest for our souls.”
*Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition. Copyright Ó 2014 by Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. (p. 1453)
Sara Nelson O'Brien is the author of
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