Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 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. (Matthew 11:28-30)
Are there oxen involved?
I have heard these verses more times than I can count. You have too, right? These are the verses taught to us explaining how Jesus does the work, and we can rest. Or, something like that. Every time I have heard this spoken about, an image of two oxen came to mind (because that’s the image used). Yes, me and Jesus, big oxen working side by side. Except, He was doing most of the work. But wait, if one ox pulls more than the other, the plow will not go in a straight line. Plowing a field? Expect uneven rows my friend because one ox doing the work will only make for more work. The way I have heard this passage traditionally taught never has made sense to me. Oh, I like the idea of a light burden. But the image of the oxen? No thank you.
What does yoke mean, then?
If a yoke does not mean a bar laid across large animals, what does it mean? To uncover the meaning, we need to do a little history lesson. I can hear you groaning, but hang with me, this will not be like those boring history lessons in school. (I pinky promise.)
In the first century, yoke meant “way” or “halakhah” (Jewish law). Every rabbi had a yoke, or his own way of teaching and interpretations of Torah. Furthermore, each family chose a rabbi to follow. Being baptized in the rabbi’s name made the individual a formal disciple of that rabbi. Therefore, when a family chose a rabbi, they chose to come under his teachings, or take on his yoke.
What is Jesus inviting us to do?
The Pharisees were strict observers of traditional and written law. Their yoke, or teachings, was exhausting. The way pharisees interpreted Torah was burdensome. Indeed, it was nearly impossible to keep all their laws and rules. Do you enjoy feeling like a failure? I imagine that is how it felt to have a pharisee for a rabbi. There would always be a law being broken. However, Jesus invites us to take His yoke upon us. He invites us to allow Him to tell us who God is. As we adopt God’s perspective, there will be rest for our souls.
There is no burden with Jesus
To follow Christ, to choose His teaching, lightens our load. He came to make everything right. While Jesus was healing people, the religious leaders were caught up in their own piety. When Jewish leaders set forth their lists of dos and dont’s, Jesus offered forgiveness. Rabbis told women they could not learn, but Jesus welcomed women to join Him in ministry. The yoke of Jesus is one of truth, of mercy, of grace, and of eternal love. I long to take on His yoke because I am tired of feeling like a failure. I can no longer keep track of what I have done wrong. Faith is not a checklist to monitor our every move. Faith is a relationship with the one who came to serve, to set free, and to save. Yes, give me Jesus. Let me sit at His feet and learn from Him, however unworthy I may be.
I choose Him. And I choose His yoke.
Whose yoke will you choose?
Friend, this verse isn’t about sweating in a field together. Yes, there is work involved in the ministry of Jesus, but there is so much goodness too. When we look closely at what Jesus teaches, what His teachings truly mean, how can we not choose His yoke? His yoke is an invitation to freedom, and to redemption. The yoke Jesus offers is a yoke of divine mercy and infinite grace.
Will you choose to take His yoke upon you?