Thursday, July 17, 2008

Jesus is my yoke-mate

Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart;and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

- Matthew 11.28-30

Today's Gospel passage from St. Matthew is certainly one that is familiar to most readers of Scripture. I think our focus when reading, praying and reflecting on it is usually on the "come to me" part, the "burdened" part, and the "you will find rest" part. Rightly so! Jesus is promising us something so powerful in this passage - especially if when we hear these words of God we find ourselves particularly burdened.
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There is no shortage of labor and burden in our world today. The economy is making life increasingly difficult for everyone, but especially for those who were on the edge of making it before. Food prices, gas prices, all prices, just keep climbing and certainly our ability to keep up is not matching pace.
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Others of us find ourselves burdened in relationships. Perhaps we are in a period of struggle in our marriage, maybe our family is full of challenging and even dysfunctional dynamics and we find ourselves stuck at the center trying to make sense and find harmony. Perhaps we find ourselves in a work place where the attitudes and actions of our co-workers are in stark contrast to the life of faith we desire and God calls us to.
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Whatever the burden, Jesus says "Come to me and you will find rest." Amen!
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But, how? The answer lies in the parts of this passage that we focus on less often: "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me...and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light." Perhaps it is because most of us tend to be so separated from our earlier agricultural roots, this image of yokes is one that is foreign to us. We may not even be certain what a yoke is. But, I think it is in this image of the yoke that we find the greatest part of this passage.
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A yoke is a heavy wooden harness that fits over the shoulders of an ox or team of oxen. Then the yoke is attached to a piece of equipment that the oxen are to pull. The yoke aids in pulling the heavy burden, or equipment. Now for farmers, especially for farmers in Jesus time, their oxen were among their most valuable possessions. Without them, they lose their livelihood. Without them, there can be no tilling, no plowing, no reaping. And, so just like us with our valuable possessions, they took very good care of them.
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This is where the first part of what is so helpful can be found. When it came time to yoke an ox for the task of the day, farmers didn't go down to Yokes-R-Us and grab one off the shelf. The yoke is custom designed and customed fit so that it wouldn't chafe and damage the ox, but be a comfortable fit so that the ox can complete its task.
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The second thing you should know is that oxen were most often yoked together. It usually took two to complete the very heavy tasks (or burdens) at hand. If an ox were yoked alone, it would simply walk around in circles. There is a balance and strength that comes from being yoked together.
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So how will our burdens be lightened? Jesus is offering us a custom designed yoke; one that was made for us alone; one that fits us; one that will help us lift our burdens and our labors - if we take it on. Jesus offers us a good yoke, meaning one that is carefully shaped so that there will be minimal chafing. Jesus yoke will be kind to our shoulders, enabling us to carry the load more easily. You see Jesus does not diminish the weight of our accountability to God but helps us to bear this responsibility. Jesus has perfectly equipped us to handle whatever we deal with. But, how often do we say "no" to the yoke that He asks us to wear? How often do we think, "I can lift this myself." When we do that, we end up like the ox pulling alone - perhaps we just keep walking in circles.
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The second part, of course, is that He doesn't want us to wear this yoke alone. The yoke Jesus speaks of is not one He imposes but rather one He also wears. Jesus is saying to us, "Become my yoke-mate, and learn how to pull the load by working beside me and watching how I do it. The heavy labor will seem lighter when you allow me to help you with it." We will be able to go in the direction we were intended if we allow Him to be our yoke-mate.
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"Take my yoke upon you...and you will find rest for yourselves." My friends, let Jesus be your yoke-mate!
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May God give you peace.

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