“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.”
That sounds so good, but that just isn’t my experience. One of the reasons we have such a hard time following Jesus—really following—is that it is incredibly difficult and frustrating. Being his disciple doesn’t make my burdens lighter, in my experience it adds to them. Being yoked to Jesus and learning from him doesn’t give me rest, it exhausts me.
Everyone has burdens. Some things just happen that are hard. We find ourselves in situations that heavy. What’s more, we bear the additional weight of trying to be successful at what we do. We carry the burden of hiding our own inadequacies. We wonder if we’re competent, or how long before our incompetence is exposed. There’s the weight of worrying about whether we’re good enough, valuable enough, work hard enough that gets added to some life-situations that are already dragging us down some days.
So this promise Jesus makes sounds so wonderful. We come to him to get relief, rest. We walk with him, and have some weight lifted from us because he tells us his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. We become his disciples, trusting in him, following him, and expect some aspects of our lives to get a even a little bit easier.
But that doesn’t seem to happen. Following Jesus–really following him–means even more difficulty. Loving people who aren’t loveable is hard. Living a generous lifestyle means we have to give up some of the financial security we crave. Forgiving those who don’t deserve it is sometimes impossible. Recognizing that our best efforts are nowhere near good enough–acknowledging our own need for forgiveness–adds a burden that some days is too much to bear. We know Jesus is with us, but that doesn’t seem to lighten the weight at all. There are many days that being with him seems to make everything heavier and harder. So I wonder what he really means here.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” A yoke here isn’t the yellow part of an egg; it’s a shaped wooden beam that connects two oxen together side by side for pulling a plow or wagon. A larger, more experienced ox was paired with a younger, less experienced ox for training–mentoring. Together they could pull anything through any terrain. Together they were virtually unstoppable.
That’s the image Jesus uses here. He is offering to be our yoke-mate so he can mentor us. Together we would be unstoppable. That sounds wonderful until he says his yoke is easy and his burden light. That’s not how many, including me, experience it. It’s not easy, and it’s really heavy. I come to Jesus for rest for my soul, and wind up with an even more exhausting burden.
Jesus is talking to the crowds here. Everyone. He’s not speaking about us individually, but collectively. We, together, take his yoke on us. We, together, come to him with our collective heavy burdens. To be yoked with him doesn’t mean “me and Jesus” so Jesus can make my life easier. It’s us with Jesus, so together we bear our burdens collectively. Together, his yoke is a lot easier when it’s spread among all of us and his burden is a lot lighter when we share it together.
Now, here’s where this gets a little sticky. Because I don’t believe as a congregation we are very good at bearing each others burdens. We do show some care sometimes, yes. We have flashes of generosity. We catch glimpses of mercy. But we do it separately, individually.
But when it comes to being yoked together, honestly, we stink. We consider a connection to one another a hindrance to individual freedom. You see, we want to do whatever we want, and we want to do it in spite of the affect it has on those others we are yoked to. Jesus is leading from one side of the yoke, and we, together, are to be following from the other side whether we like it or not. And it doesn’t go well when we’re pulling in different directions, placing our own priorities ahead of everyone else’s; thinking our role and our ministry is more important than someone else’s. We don’t go anywhere–much less go where Jesus is leading. We have become adept over the years at insisting on our own way rather than working together, finding a scapegoat for the weight we each seem to be carrying, blaming a staff member, a pastor, a worship service, a council. We do that in an attempt to ease our own burdens, but we wind up imposing heavier ones on each other. And we all suffer for it. As a congregation, we seem to want to carry our burdens separately, individually, instead of together as Jesus invites us to do. It makes us all tired. It makes me tired.
As Lutheran Church of the Master, as those who together share this yoke with Jesus, I’m asking you to lighten the load for one another. We need to take seriously the business of forgiving each other; carrying the needs and hopes of even those we don’t know. Going out of our way to show love; being inconvenienced, happily, to benefit someone else here.
Discipleship is not easy; walking with Jesus in the world is a heavy thing to carry. I’m asking for your help. I’m offering you mine. This is just too hard for any of us to do by ourselves. We’re all tired. We’re all feeling the weight. We need one another. To be about the work Jesus has given us, to live as Christ in the world, we need to do it together. We need each other.
“Come to me, you all are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give all of you rest. Take my yoke upon you together , and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you all will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Together that sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?