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Jesus' yoke is for lightening the load and enlightening the mind.
Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV
The Liberating Yoke
People hear what they want to hear. That's true when we read and listen to the Bible, too. Yes, Jesus made it sound so nice and easy--"Come to Me, . . . and I will give you rest." But if you were really paying attention, you may have noticed that he also said if we want the benefit of rest, we must wear a yoke and go to school! That's not necessarily what we like to be told, but let's hear him out before saying, "No-way!"
Yokes were commonly used in Jesus' day as a neck harness by which oxen pulled heavy loads or plowed up the fields. The owner of the ox lifted the harness up and over the head as the animal entered into it. A well-fitting, smooth wooden yoke made every chore easier. It was an instrument of mercy, not a form of maltreatment.
A good yoke was individualized to fit a particular animal. Jesus, having been a carpenter by trade, knew all the ins and outs of a good harness. As he walked throughout the countryside, he naturally noticed the drag placed on working animals. It was a visual reminder that a proper yoke sets one free from the weariness of life.
Jesus used a common piece of farming equipment to show us how our physical needs and spiritual aspirations converge. The burdens we carry through life and the heart's desire for peace and rest come together in the yoke. Yet if we want the lighter load, there's something we must do before that can happen.
"Come to Me, . . . Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me." That's an invitation to voluntary submission. Rest comes by entering in. Not by observation, intellectualizing, debating past experiences or future possibilities, but by entering into the yoke Jesus has made for us. No one is forced into it, but the benefits are divine.
The yoke is a connector which binds us to Jesus. It forms the framework, or environment, in which we receive instruction from him. Learning the gentleness and humility of Jesus is a process that takes time. It's not a quick sprint, but a long, long walk that never ends. Burdens don't disappear; the custom-made yoke just makes them easier to bear.
A popular verse we see engraved on buildings is this--"You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." Knowledge does set us free from the entanglement of ignorance, lies and deceit. But un-learning the things which bind and restrict us is also liberating. Jesus described himself as a gentle and lowly-hearted teacher. So we need not fear his instruction and the support he provides. The yoke is not about domination and servitude, it's about re-programming our mind and teaching us to fly.
What do we unlearn as we study with Jesus? For starters, take a look at this list: anger, resentments, fear, worry, desire to dominate, self-preoccupation, guilt, sexual impurity; jealousy, lack of creative activity, inferiorities, a lack of love.
E. Stanley Jones called them the 12 apostles of ill-health. They are probably also the source of much un-rest. Don't fight them, Jones said, instead, hand them over to the Teacher. Fighting them just gives our attention to the culprits and is self-defeating; surrendering them puts our focus where it belongs, on Jesus. [From his book, Song of Ascents, page 337.]
The yoke is a classroom where we discover relief from our burdens and rest for our souls. Religion has a tendency to highlight the spiritual and say little about our physical needs. Everyday life gives most of its attention to the physical and little consideration to spiritual matters. Yet with the image of the yoke, Jesus combined both the physical and the spiritual into one whole piece.
Why does Jesus care about out burdens? Why in the world would Jesus want to be joined with us in such a close relationship? There are no logical answers to these questions. Why he would want any of us as his scholars is a mystery explained only by grace.
We have all struggled with a task simply because we did not have the right tool. The same task with the right tool would have been much easier to accomplish. Jesus has the right tool for us as we journey through life. It's a miracle tool that will make everything we do turn out better. The tool is his yoke which he wants to place upon our shoulders to symbolize our union with him. It will ease our load, renew our mind and put us on the way toward rest. "No way!" is a losing response. "Right on!" is a winner.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Share your story of trying to harness an animal, or watching someone else do it.
There are words which seem to have a bad connotation with many people (i.e. work or homework). Make a list of some words people do not like. Identify any good words on your list, words which you think are positive even though others may react negatively to them?Did you ever try to re-program someone's mind to think of a particular concept in a different light? If so, tell something about that experience.
How do you react to Jesus' image of the yoke and learning humility? Are these unwelcome words? Why or why not? Does it sound like Jesus is trying to put you down or lift you up?
Re-programming the mind means we learn to think differently. Look at the "12 apostles of ill health" as described by Jones. What things on that list burden your life? Are you willing to let Jesus renew your mind and change your behavior?
How does your physical well-being influence your spiritual life?What impact does your spiritual life have on your physical well-being?
There's a song in the United Methodist Hymnal which begins, "Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free. Force me to render up my sword, and I shall conqueror be. I sink in life's alarms when by myself I stand; imprison me within thine arms, and strong shall be my hand." How do you explain the paradox of calling God our Lord and Master and then claiming to be free?
What image do you have of being yoked with Christ? Yoked together side by side? God controlling the reins from behind? Jesus leading? Running with you? Or chasing after you? Living in union with the Holy Spirit? . . . . . . . . ?
Using your imagination, picture yourself getting out of bed in the morning and coming to Jesus for him to place the yoke on your shoulders. Feel the gentleness of Jesus, and the good fit of the yoke. Go through the routines of the day, conscious of Jesus' presence. Envision Jesus teaching you how to deal with a particular problem? Imagine going to bed at night, talking to Jesus as you go to sleep.