“The Yoke of Jesus”
Pentecost 5A, Proper 9 – July 9, 2017
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 45:11-18; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30.
Today’s Gospel lesson contains a profound invitation from Jesus – to unburden ourselves by intentionally yoking ourselves to him. If we do that we are no longer totally guiding ourselves. We are being guided and held accountable by him. It is fairly simple in concept but it is based on a brutally honest self-examination: What in our lives is burdening us; weighing us down; pulling us in directions we really don’t want to go?
First, let’s look at
In our Gospel lesson beginning with verse 27, Jesus said: “All things have been committed to me by my father.” In this context of knowing he has authority over all things, Jesus issues this invitation in verses 28-30 – “Come onto me all who are weary and burdened (heavy ladened), and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
There are several issues to deal with: What is a Yoke? What are examples of things that make us “weary and burdened”? What kind of ‘rest’ does Jesus offer? What is Jesus trying to teach us that depends on us being yoked to him? How can a yoke be easy and a burden light? So, first
What is a Yoke? A Yoke is defined as a “wooden crosspiece that is fashioned over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or cart they are to pull.” The animals are joined together so that they have to work in harmony. They pull independently but they have to find a harmonious rhythm and pace. One can’t race out in front of the other. The yoke binds them in a side to side relationship. Though one can be faster and stronger than the other they have to find a pace that works for both. The stronger one will probably pull harder than the weaker one but only at a pace that the weaker one can keep.
It is similar to a paceline in bicycling. You have a line of riders being pulled by the one on the front. Generally, the one in front is a strong, fast rider. His/her responsibility is to pull the group – breaking the wind so that it is easier on the riders behind. The lead rider tries to get the maximum performance out the group mindful of not going so fast that the weaker riders fall off the paceline. The weaker riders benefit from riding in a paceline. They gain advantages from decreased wind resistance and the sense of energy gained by being part of a group that is working for them.
So, that is the image Jesus wants us to have in mind. He is inviting us to be yoked to him. He is stronger than we are but he is saying he will adjust his pace to our abilities and handicaps. That is grace in action, isn’t it? However, the image begs a question.
Why would we agree to be yoked to him, or to anyone? If we were as skilled in living and strong in character as Jesus I doubt any of us would want to be yoked – tied together with anyone else – perhaps even Jesus.
I think, Jesus is suggesting that many of us have yokes, or harnesses that tether us – even against our desire – to something we are required to pull through life. As a result, we feel burdened, weak, frustrated. A certain level of joy has escaped our lives. So,
What might we be yoked to? Might it be a job we don’t like and are not fulfilled in, yet to protect our family we stay yoked to it? Or, a marriage that has turned into something that feels like a prison sentence, but to honor your vows you stay yoked? Could it be a lack of education that yokes you to a life of underachievement? Or, a crippling injury or disease, or a genetic defect that yokes you and frustrates your desire to do more with your life? There are so many things that yoke us to something we have no desire to keep pulling with throughout life. Is this you? Do you know what yours is? Have you thought what is frustrating you, disappointing you, or causing you to feel depressed? In the midst of our struggles with being yoked,
Jesus offers us Rest! I’ve observed in life that being yoked to something we don’t want to be with, wears us out. It wearies us. Sometimes, we use up tremendous amounts of our energy trying to hold all our emotions in check. We are supposed to use our strength loving God, yet we waste tremendous amounts of it being depressed, or on frivolous pursuits.
So, when we are yoked to Jesus, he has a way of helping us reprioritize our lives. The result is peace enters our souls and we can finally rest, enjoying who we are and what we’ve been through on our journey from here to heaven. You see, in being yoked to Jesus we must understand he is not offering us an empty invitation;
Jesus is trying to teach us that the best life possible comes from being yoked to him. Jesus says to take his yoke upon ourselves and learn from him. So, what do you think Jesus is trying to teach us?
I think the simplest answer to that question is that Jesus is trying to teach us obedience to the will of God. Perhaps the best illustration of that comes from Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knew he was under tremendous temptation to back away from his Heavenly Father’s will for him to go to the Cross. That is why he asked his disciples to stay awake and pray for him. He needed all the strength available from his friends to withstand the temptation to escape the agony of the Cross. His own human instincts were working against him. The Devil was working on him overtime. His disciples failed to even stay awake one hour on his behalf.
His anxiety was so great that he was sweating drops of blood out of his forehead. Imagine how high was his blood pressure that capillaries were bursting in his forehead? In the context of all that agony – yoked to a human desire to escape the worst pain imaginable – Jesus submitted himself to his Heavenly Father’s will, “not my will be done, but thine”. The result of his obedience? Our salvation.
We all have our Gethsemane moments or events: times when our will is not in line with God’s will for us. So, we have to make a choice – our will, our way, or God’s will. Will we be obedient to God, or not? Jesus is trying to teach us the value and benefit of obedience. All of us are involved in this drama. All of us are tempted to unyoke ourselves from God’s will in particular situations and go our own way. If we choose obedience Jesus teaches us there is a benefit. The benefit is:
His yoke is easy, and his burden is light.
Let’s go back to the idea of two beasts of burden yoked together pulling a plow or a wagon. If one is weak and the other strong, the strong one will be always enable the weak one to exceed its strength limits. It can eventually totally wear out the weaker animal.
Jesus is saying the opposite. He is saying he will adjust his pull on our mutual yoke to accommodate our weaknesses. He will not pull us beyond our capabilities. He will work with us to improve our strength and fortitude. He will get us to the finish line. He is the consummate lead rider in the paceline.
Remember the scene after Jesus’ resurrection. He went to the Sea of Galilee to restore Peter. Three times he asked Peter if he loved him and three times Peter affirmed that he loved Jesus, and Jesus renewed his call on Peter to be the Rock upon which the church would be built.
What we don’t get from the English reading of that scene is the strength of the words used in the Greek New Testament. There are two words we need to understand: philios and agapaos. Philios is the root of Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. It represents the best of human love. Agapaos is the form for the verb Agape. Agape is the word consistently used in the New Testament to describe the very highest quality of love. The kind of love God has for us and is holding out that we might grow into for each other. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength” is Agape love. Love that never fails is agape love. Philios is used to describe the best human love we can have for each other. It come short of God’s love but it is the best we have.
Jesus approaches Peter and says, “Peter do you agapaos me?” Peter says, “yes Lord, you know I philios you”. Peter loves Jesus but not with the same quality of love that God has. Again, Jesus says: “Peter do you agapaos me?” Peter is grieved but answers: “Yes Lord, you know I philios you.” The third time Jesus says: “Peter, do you philios me?” Peter says: “Lord you know all things. You know I philios you.”
Jesus knew Peter couldn’t get to where he was, so he came to where Peter was. That is being yoked to one who loves us so deeply – understands us so completely, accepts us so totally that we can begin to love ourselves right where we are – because his yoke is easy and his burden is light.
No one will love you more and help you become the best person you are capable of becoming than Jesus Christ. Why would you not want to be yoked to Jesus Christ?