“My yoke is easy, and my burden is light”.
How many of us quote these words of Jesus, thinking they should be a comfort, and yet knowing in our hearts we don’t believe it?
We want to believe it, but the bewildering truth is that we don’t find it to be true in our experience, nor do we see it to be true in the lives of others.
These days the thought of being yoked to any religious culture is likely to make many people grit their teeth to resist. After all, religion is at the root of so much trouble between humans.
My impression of a yoke has always been about carrying a burden alone. I think back to a time when I lived in the Far East. Men of all ages travelled about carrying their goods strapped to a rod over their shoulders. The loads were clearly heavy. They trotted along with a distinctive light-footed, bouncing step that set up a rhythm to keep the pressure of the load off their shoulders as much as possible. The heavier the load the faster they trotted.
So why would Jesus use a yoke and a burden as a metaphor for his relationship for us?
We can see that the metaphor is relevant for life as most of us lead it today. We are bound, or yoked, to all sorts of things – our relationships, our possessions, our work. And we know what it means to be burdened. Who hasn’t felt weighed down with responsibility or burdened by guilt?
We rush through life to avoid giving attention to the things that weigh us down. Being busy becomes an excuse for living with chaos.
So what can Jesus mean when he talks about his yoke being easy and his burden light?
Recently I discovered that the yoke Jesus would be referring to was a double yoke used to link oxen. As a carpenter he is likely to have made many of them and been familiar with the need to match the yoke to the oxen.
Suddenly the metaphor feels completely different. Jesus is inviting us into his yoke with him.
When Jesus spoke about his yoke, he was talking to people who were weighed down by the burdens placed on them by the religious leaders of the day. These leaders would “tie up heavy burdens , hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others”. He was speaking of the burden of religious rituals and rules that were added to the laws, making them unachievable.
Having no chance of ever being good enough is an impossible burden to bear.
But Jesus spoke tenderly to the people who were worn out on trying to be good enough. He knows God and he knows how to get close to Him. He is willing to spell it out slowly and clearly in a way that we can understand and follow. Reading the words in the Message translation of the bible help us to understand what Jesus is saying.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
If you want to know God, the more you think about what these words mean the more attractive Jesus’ yoke feels.
He knows the way.
You can take advantage of his strength, wisdom, knowledge and experience.
You find yourself slowing down . . . a burden shared is lighter.
You glimpse the possibility of learning to live freely and lightly.
Yes, perhaps it can be an easy yoke.