"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for
your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30
Quite a familiar passage for anyone like me who has been hanging around church for the past 54 years or so, and although it's still a comforting thought, it is easily taken for granted simply because we can all practically quote it verbatim in our sleep. But I took the time to look it up again this morning and to read it in the overall context of what was happening in the ministry of Jesus when he said it, and why he thought he needed to say it when he did.
A few verses prior to this, Jesus was bemoaning the fact (assuming it's okay to say that Jesus "bemoaned" upon occasion, which seems to be the case) that several of the towns where he had performed miracles still refused to accept him for who he claimed to be - they still refused to admit that they were wrong and that their attempts to get right with God via religious exercises didn't cut the mustard. He suggested that Sodom would have repented if he had performed the same miracles for that sordid society and would be better off in the long run than the towns who thought of themselves as so pious but refused to accept Jesus as the Christ.
He then goes on to pray, thanking God for hiding his purposes from the "wise and clever" and revealing it to those who are childlike instead, which leads him into today's scripture.
So it seems clear to me that when Jesus was talking about laboring and bearing heavy burdens he was talking about religion. More specifically, the religion of the day in that part of the world, but I believe the same thing applies to any religion today. Religion, after all, is man's attempt to reach God by following a specific set of rules and/or by performing certain rituals, by perfecting and sanctifying oneself in order to earn an eternal reward.
Or as Paul put it, "If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised on the eight day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless." Paul said that he was "found blameless" under the law, and most people would think that's a pretty darn good thing. But this is what he said about that: "I...count them but rubbish..." Paul realized that religion doesn't work. It's just a heavy burden that nobody can bear, and it does nothing to bring you closer to God.
But the burden we are called to bear as followers of Christ is light. Why? Because he calls us to take his yoke upon us. In other words, he calls us to be yoked together with him - with God himself! Jesus already bore our burden of sin to the cross, so we no longer need to try and sanctify ourselves in order to be good enough for God. Jesus did it for us already. And the yoke we are now called to bear with Christ is love.
Our yoke is love. Simply love.
Lord, I take your yoke upon me. In fact, you might say that the yoke is on me! Ha! Maybe not. But anyway, count me in and yoke me up with Jesus. I love you!