“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”
Matthew 11: 16-19, 25ff
Jesus was not happy. “You’re like a bunch of spoiled children, unhappy with whatever is offered you. You want it all your own your way. John the Baptist came neither eating nor drinking and you said he was possessed by demons. I come eating and drinking and you call me a glutton and a drunkard, someone who hangs out with the wrong crowd.”
I wonder what Jesus would say to us, are we different from those people that rejected him? How have we responded to Jesus and his gospel? This question raises a deep and fundamental question. To who or what are we yoked? Who do we give ourselves? What or who takes priority in our lives, directing how we live and behave with others, how we make choices? We all align our lives to something: another person, work, family, success, reputation, our country, or a political party. Sometimes our yokes are more internal like fear, anxiety, anger, beliefs or opinions, the losses and tragedies of our lives. Regardless, they are the relationships and attachments that we depend on for meaning and, for better or worse, they give us our life’s direction. We’ve all got them and usually more than one.
If we are going to call ourselves Christians we must fully yoke ourselves to Christ. He must be the first and only yoke. We cannot simply come to church, as in the past, hear the gospel, say our prayers, and then go home to lunch. The gospel demands action. That’s why Jesus is so harsh with his words, ‘people have seen God among them, and they have seen the signs’. Jesus had cleansed their lepers, healed their sick, calmed the sea, cast out their demons, forgiven their sins, preached and taught in their cities. Still they rejected him and John the Baptist before him.
Sometimes we are like those children in the marketplace, unhappy with whatever is offered. We want the gospel to fit our beliefs, desires, and lives rather than shaping our beliefs, desires, and lives to fit the gospel. That simply is not on for Jesus. We can dance, celebrate and give thanks for the coming of God, incarnate in Jesus, or we can simply mourn our sins, the brokenness of our lives, and the pain of the world. But we must respond choosing one or the other. Either is to wear the yoke of Christ. Both will reset our lives and priorities.
What does that mean for us now? It means we have to take seriously our life of discipleship. Our prayer is more about being close to God than getting what we want. We work for justice and the dignity of every human being. We care for the poor, feed the hungry, and defend the oppressed. We love our enemies. We offer forgiveness before it is asked for. Our faithfulness should be obvious by how we live and speak. We are to live day-by-day praising God and giving thanks for his gifts and many blessings. We must let go of anger. We are not to live in fear and we must trust that daily bread will be provided.
To be yoked to anything or anyone other than Jesus will only leave us weary and burdened. This is a spiritual condition, a disease of the soul. When we act as one person in one situation and another person in a different situation there is no integrity. Our reserves will run dry and we’d live exhausted with nothing to offer. Soon our relationships would become superficial.
Are we weary? Burdened? If so, maybe this means we are not fully wearing the yoke of Christ. Too often we can treat our weariness and medicate our burdens with retail therapy, addictions, a new toy, a holiday, a nap, a day off, busyness and perfectionism. More often than not we are just as weary and just as burdened afterwards as we were in the beginning. These are not the medicine for our exhaustion. The antidote to our exhaustion begins with wholeheartedness. That wholeheartedness is only found in sharing the yoke of Christ, the heart of God and the heart of humanity beating as one.
Jesus wasn’t upset because those cities misbehaved. His heart was breaking because they had chosen a life less than they were created for, a life less than God was and continues to offer. This is why his words of reproach soon became words of invitation, love, care, and concern. “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.”
Whilst we were in New Zealand last year, I had the privilege of preaching on this text at my little cousin’s Thanksgiving Service. We demonstrated how a yoke works; little Zarah was tethered to her friend’s side. I explained that when we are yoked like that to Jesus he is by our side always, where we go, he goes and where Jesus goes so do we. He will never force us in any direction but will remain close by our side always.
To take on the yoke of Jesus is to take on his life. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me,” he says. “Let your heart love like mine. Let your mind be filled with the same concerns as mine. Let your feet walk in step with mine. Let your hands touch the world like mine. Let your eyes see the Father like mine. Live and move in tandem with me, as one, and you will find rest for your soul.” Amen.
The Rev'd Mo Lunn, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 05/07/2020