My yoke is easy and my burden is light.
My yoke is easy and my burden is light. There is a great paradox in this language. Burdens are burden-some, heavy, weighty. Imagine having to bear a yoke. Imagine the strain on the back of the neck, the shoulders, your whole body crushed and weighed down. And yet, Jesus invites us to lay his yoke upon ourselves, and then he says it’s easy and a light burden. What was he talking about?
The idea of the yoke was and is common in Judaism. Becoming an adult Jew is all about taking on the ‘yoke of the Law’ and the ‘yoke of the commandments’. It is a kind of parallel to traditional confirmation. It recognises that living under God has personal obligations and expectations.
But alongside the written Law was something called the ‘oral law’, the tradition of the elders. Part of this was very practical. It was to explain what the written Law meant. For example, the Ten Commandments say that on the Sabbath Day you shall do no work. But what is work? Take walking - because walking can be strenuous, the rabbis asked, ‘How far can you walk on the Sabbath Day without being deemed to work’? So, they agreed and defined an acceptable journey as 2,000 stadia, or ¾ of a mile. Walk any further than that and you were working, and the commandment was broken. And that is just one of thousands upon thousands of rules and regulations.
As the Pharisees gave equal authority to both the Law of Moses and the oral law, they burdened God’s law with all these man-made rules (as Jesus called them). These rules were a burden and a yoke, grievously heavy to bear. It had transformed religion from God’s heaven-bound design, for life to a legalistic all-encompassing rule-book.
Hence, in his grievance against the Pharisees, Jesus says, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and they put them on the shoulders of others. Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Jesus recalls us to the basics – love for God and love for our neighbour. For Jesus religion is not a rule book, but a generous response to people and situations where that response is led by love. Don’t be fooled, Christian discipleship isn’t easy. Truly to love God, and truly to love the neighbour is costly. Jesus’ compassion, healing, preaching and teaching, his practical serving – all cost him.
In the end, Jesus’ great act of love on the Cross cost him his very life. But Jesus is the bringer of joy; hope, healing and reconciliation. Jesus united us in Love, and this brings us joy. Nothing is too burdensome when we have this joy.
Christian religion is never about rules and regulations, but a life led by the Spirit. The Lord’s yoke is that of Love, and obedience to Love! This is not burdensome, but sets us free knowing God’s Spirit is guiding us by the yoke of Love gently set upon our shoulders.