I will give you rest
Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest.
That’s just what we want to hear at this time of year – when so many of us feel tired and anxious after the long months of lockdown. Come to me, says Jesus, not just if you feel tired but if life is difficult and worrying, come to me if you are overburdened with economic worries, health scares or sickness, family problems, or even just our own sinfulness (or that of others) – and I will give you rest! And this rest which the Lord gives us is not so much lounging by a pool sipping champagne, not the disappearance of all tribulation but peace and fulfilment.
He goes on to say: ‘Shoulder my yoke’. He uses an image that would have been familiar to the people of His times – a yoke on two oxen allowing them to pull a plough or a cart. In Biblical language, a yoke often referred to the Law, the commandments, God’s Kingdom, but it also symbolises the guiding principle of our lives, which we are yoked to – as Christians, we should be yoked to God but so often it is somebody or something else. And when we are not yoked to God, that’s when we feel overburdened and unsatisfied!
The truly amazing thing in this image is that Jesus isn’t so much the driver; rather He has a yoke as well – He is yoked to the Father and He refers to this earlier in the passage, as He makes one of the most astonishing claims in the Gospels: ‘everything has been entrusted to me by my Father,…no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.’ Just as the Son (Jesus) receives life and purpose from the Father, so we receive this from the Son. Jesus is saying: come to me, put my yoke on, stand beside me and we will pull together, we will work on my Father’s mission, you will share in His life. That’s what being a Christian means!
Finally He says ‘my yoke is easy and my burden light.’ Here we may be tempted to disagree. The Christian life is not easy; the Lord’s teachings continue to challenge us and call us to repentance; the Church often seems to be so counter-cultural. Perhaps a better translation of the Greek is: my yoke is well-fitting. Yokes were designed to fit around a particular beast of burden; perhaps Jesus made them in His carpenter’s workshop. The yoke given to each of us, our share in God’s work is tailor-made to fit our gifts, our opportunities, our resilience. And that applies to the times when the yoke feels like a cross – a constant teaching in the spiritual tradition is that we are always given the grace we need to deal with our trials and tribulations, even when they seem overwhelming. And I’m sure we’ve all experienced the way that help often does come at the most desperate moment, when we think we are alone - that unexpected offer of help or a way forward that suddenly becomes apparent or some inner resilience.
‘My yoke is easy and my burden light’ – yes, when we take on God’s work; when we stand alongside Christ and wear His yoke; when we empty ourselves and do things out of love, then we can take any burden on our shoulders!