Jesus’ yoke, a light burden


Scripture: Matthew 11: 25-30    Jan Savory

We are invited to wear Jesus’ yoke, a light burden that will give us rest.

There is a little parkette at the bottom of Guelph Line, right on Lake Ontario; it’s one of the places where I go when I feel overwhelmed and need to “get away from it all”. I bring my folding chair, sometimes a cup of coffee, and just sit. At least, I can do that in the summer, and it’s in this parkette that I am recording today’s homily.

Creation – the first Bible

The parkette where I meet God, and learn to share Jesus’ yoke, a restful, light burden —
A place to meet God in nature

The Franciscans taught me that Creation is the first Bible where God first chose to reveal him/her self. And here I meet God in the gentle lapping of the waters of the lake on the shore, in the green of the trees against the blue sky, in all the beauty around me. This is one place where, for me, the phrase “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” takes on meaning. Jesus invites us to Come – get away from our worries, and I find it helpful to physically move out of my common surroundings, even if it’s only to sit in a different chair. Jesus, after a busy, tiring day went up into a mountain to be with God.

We need spiritual rest

I think we are all getting weary of the restrictions put on us to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But for many of us, the restrictions have meant we have more time for doing nothing, more time to follow hobbies or read books – more free time than before – because normal activities are curtailed. And yet we are weary. Why? Because the rest we need isn’t physical, but spiritual. We need to share Jesus’ yoke, a light burden.

The passage of scripture that we heard today has been a comfort to many of us over the years. It is often read at funerals. There are times we all need to hear it. But there is another side to this passage. Along with rest, Jesus calls us to “take up his yoke” and bear a burden – albeit a light one. 

Turning blessings into burdens

Let’s look at the burden. Later on in Matthew’s gospel, (Matt 23 v4) Jesus says of the Pharisees : They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders. He was referring to the many rules they expected a devout Jew to keep. The idea was to prevent an accidental breaking of one of the 613 laws in the Torah (the first 5 books of the Hebrew scriptures).  The blessing of Sabbath, a day of rest, became a burden because there were so many ways to “break the Sabbath” by working. 

Jesus heals on the Sabbath
An example of Jesus healing a woman on the Sabbath

One example:  adding fresh water to a vase of cut flowers was breaking the prohibition against sowing or cultivating.  We may find this amusing, but does our religion put similar burdens on us? Does religion turn God’s blessings into burdens for us? In some cases, yes.

We have some big obligations

Of course, being a Christian has its obligations. Not many but they are big ones. Follow Jesus; love God and love your neighbour; love one another as I have loved you.  But, are they burdens?

God cannot love you more

The burdensome obligation is when I feel that I have to do something in order to get something from God – in order to be “saved”, whatever that means – or to make God love me. Another way of saying this is: God will love me more if I … (fill in what you like): help others, stop being judgemental; oppose abortion in all circumstances; feed the hungry; go to church … Wrong! God cannot love you more whatever you do. God loves you absolutely and unconditionally now, however you are. As the Bible tells us:  God is love; God so loved the world. 

God’s love makes our burdens lighter

Let me say that again. God loves you absolutely and recklessly and God cannot love you more. What you do or don’t do cannot change this. When we realize that, our burdens become lighter. It’s the difference between being a servant or a family member.  For a servant or slave, preparing a meal every day might be a burden, but making supper for my family whom I love is never a burden. 

Why do bad things happen?

That doesn’t mean life will always be easy, whether with God or without God. For Christians and non-Christians alike there will be times when everything goes well, restful times, vacations, prosperity, good times with friends, success in employment, all the things that make life easier come equally to everyone.  On the other hand, both Christians and non-Christians are equally likely to get Cancer (or COVID); both are just as likely to lose everything in a flood, fire or earthquake. Everyone will lose someone we love. These life events make us weary and constitute another kind of burden.  They will wear us down. Look around you. Christians do not have an easier life than non-Christians. 

It’s the luck of the draw

We ask: Why do bad things happen to good people? Or why do evil people prosper? It’s the luck of the draw, not the hand of God micro managing the universe.  God’s promise to us is not that we should have no burdens, but that our burdens can be easier to bear when we are yoked to Christ. Remember what I told the children: the yoke was often used for the weaker partner to be helped by a stronger animal or for the inexperienced younger animal to learn from the older one. We can get rest if we share  Jesus’ yoke, a light burden

Jesus yoke is a light burden

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me … and you will find rest for your souls, says Jesus. We need rest for our souls when we are weary. But there’s an added bonus. We learn from our partner, who, when we need it, is gentle and loving, but is also strong and crusading.  We learn to be strong, because there is another side to Jesus – the crusader against injustice who joins Black Lives Matters marches and Pride parades to fight to end systemic injustice against the marginalized.

I come to this beautiful parkette to find rest for my weary soul. I hope to leave rested and with new knowledge of myself, my God and what I need to do. We all need the gentle, restful Jesus, but we all need the crusading Jesus as well to teach us the way of love and compassion.