Wearing the Right Yoke Leads to Freedom
By Beth Demme
“Come to me, all you who 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.” Matthew 11:28-29
Jesus says the way to find rest in our souls—in the deepest part of ourselves—is to take on his yoke. When I picture an ox burdened with a yoke and pulling a plow, I don’t think the ox feels rested or restful. And yet, Jesus says that’s what he offers us.
It turns out, a yoke is designed to make it easier for the ox to do more, with less effort. But wearing the right yoke is important. If we wear the wrong yoke, the work will be difficult, maybe impossible.
Despite this, some Christians want to wear the wrong yoke.
They seem to think that what Jesus offers is to too easy and too free to be real. Instead of taking on the yoke Jesus offers, they take on the yoke of legalism, moralism, or what I would describe as empire (though they might simply call it politics).
I’ve been on the road a lot in recent weeks, especially on the interstates of Florida. Along I-75 and I-95 there are billboards proclaiming, “REAL Christians obey the teachings of Jesus.” And, yes, there is a special emphasis on the word “REAL.”
I wonder if the creators of those billboards have read Matthew 11? I could be reading the billboards wrong, but to me, these billboards suggest there is a human arbiter of who is (and who is not) a “real” Christian. The litmus test is whether or not we “obey the teachings of Jesus.” I bet whoever paid for the billboards thinks they can accurately determine what it means to “obey the teachings of Jesus.”
Jesus offers us freedom, not a litmus test.
Jesus offers us freedom from the burden of deciding who is in and who is out. Freedom from constantly being judged by other people and our inner critic. Freedom from the prison of self-righteousness.
Before offering us his easy yoke and light burden, Jesus remarks on how wrong people can be. (Matthew 11:18-19) Jesus says people rejected John the Baptist because he did fast. The same people rejected Jesus because he didn’t. People were wrong on both counts.
God is constantly defeating our expectations and exceeding our expectations.
The Pharisees and members of other Jewish sects of Jesus’ time expected the Messiah to look and act a certain way. They didn’t expect him to be divine. They didn’t expect him to be humble. They didn’t expect him to be born to a couple of nobodies in a stable. They didn’t expect him to defeat death by dying.
In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees knew a lot about the law – most of which was based on their interpretation of scripture – but it seems they didn’t know much about God. They wanted people to wear the wrong yoke, the yoke of a rule-follower, instead of the yoke of God’s freely given grace.
So today when people think they can determine who is a “real” Christian and who is not, I wonder how their expectations compare to God’s? I wonder whose yoke they want me to carry.
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