A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr A ~ Pentecost 5 ~ Matthew 11:25-30
Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer: “Thank you, God, Lord of heaven and earth. You’ve concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, God, that’s the way you like to work.”
Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. “The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows [perceives, personally experiences] the Son the way the Father does, nor [knows, perceives, and personally experiences] the Father the way the Son does, (except for) anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal God. [Matthew 11:25-27 (MSG+NRSV)]
That may seem like a tricky theological argument that Jesus is making, but really it’s only tricky because we’ve tended to think about spirituality and faith as information and knowing while Jesus is trying to help us understand that it’s all about relationship.
He’s saying that he and God experientially know one another in a unique and intimate way – that no one quite knows him, Jesus, like God does, and no one quite knows God like he, Jesus, does – EXCEPT FOR anyone who Jesus chooses to reveal God to.
And who is that?
Who does Jesus choose to reveal God to?
Anyone who will listen and open themselves and see!
And how does Jesus reveal God?
By example, by living God’s Way, by helping us to change the way we perceive the world – by being in relationship with us.
And here’s what that relationship looks like. Jesus says:
Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you that are weary, as in exhausted, and not just in body but also in mind and in spirit.
Come to me, all you who are tired out, worn out, and burned out,
and are carrying heavy burdens, are weighed down, and overloaded – is that feeling like you and your life?
If so, Jesus says, “Come to me…and I will give you rest.”
Rest here doesn’t just mean a break, or a holiday, or a couple days off. It literally means to emphasize a pause, in order to refresh, to renew, and re-strengthen.
So it’s not just rest and refreshment for your body, but for your soul.
What’s a soul?
In the bible the idea of soul is that it’s the direct aftermath of God breathing (blowing) God’s gift of life into a person.
It’s your very being.
The absolute core and centre of who you are.
You are God-breathed.
That which animates you is God’s breath or Spirit.
So what’s really going on in this passage – in this promise from Jesus – is that he’s not just offering physically tired people an afternoon in a hammock – although that might actually do our souls a heap of good!
He’s talking about soul-weariness.
The kind of stuff that puts you in a funk and drains your passion for living.
The kind of stuff that feels like a heavy burden – like all the million things you’re responsible for and how like Atlas it feels like the whole world is on our shoulders.
The kind of stuff that seems to take your breath away – as in your God-breathed-ness – as in your Spirit.
Oh how we yearn for rest and refreshment from that soul-weary feeling!
Jesus says, “Come to me, and I’ll give you that rest!”
And then just as you’re starting to believe him and warm to the idea of pause and refreshment and not being weighed down – “Yes, Jesus! I need it! I’ll take it! I’ll come! Tell me what to do!” – he talks about taking on a yoke.
Matthew 11:29-30 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
A yoke is a farming image. It’s the wooden device that joins two oxen together so they can work as one. But Jesus takes this earthy image of labour and figuratively applies to our faith journey and transforms it to mean that which unites (joins) two people to move (work) together as one. And make sure you notice who is under that yoke with you!
Taking Jesus’ yoke upon us means to bind ourselves to Jesus and his Way so that we are united and joined with him and can move and work together with him as one.
Jesus’ yoke is easy, not because it’s not hard or challenging but because easy here means beneficial, benevolent, good, kind, and pleasant. None of those words usually go with the idea of being yoked. But Jesus’ yoke is different. The burden (or personal load) of Jesus’ yoke is light – it’s easy to bear – it’s desirable – which is opposite to how a yoke was thought of.
The image of a yoke in Jesus’ day was typically used as an image of bondage and curtailing one’s freedom. But as usual Jesus turns the image absolutely on its head and makes it into an image of communion.
Instead of striving to work like an ox on our own for the purposes of the kingdom, or service, or faith we are joined with Jesus – with no one less than him sharing the task, sharing the yoke.
It’s really important to note that he’s not handing us something hard and stepping away and saying get on with it.
There’s no rest and refreshment in that!
Faith or church like that is just another burden!
Instead, the mind-boggling revelation here, is that he’s inviting us to be his partner under the same yoke.
Those of you who are well versed in scripture might be getting images of that great old King James Version of 2 Corinthians 6:14 running through your head: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.”
Often that gets used as dating advice! But that misses the more useful point of why unequal yoking is problematic. Unequal yoking means one “ox”, one party, is so much stronger than the other that the plow would always go off line.
Think about that for a minute.
Surely Jesus is far more powerful than us, right?
Surely Jesus being yoked with us is decidedly unequal.
And yet Jesus offers that yoke.
What do you think that’s saying to us?
It might say that Jesus is so humble that he would never use his power to overpower us – which sounds nice enough in a humble sort of way but doesn’t that then mean that Jesus’ power is never able to be fully used? It’s one thing to be gentle with your power – it’s another thing to withhold it from doing good.
Or maybe a second meaning is possible.
Perhaps we’re so soul-weary sometimes that we can’t fathom that we are capable of being yoked with Jesus for the transformation of the world through the revealing of the kingdom of God.
But apparently we are!
And maybe, just maybe, being yoked with Jesus means that we are much more powerful than we think we are! – that there is much more world-changing spiritual potential in us than we dare to dream we have – because if we admit we have it we must realize we are expected to use it!
It reminds me of this wonderful poem by Marianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
Jesus said that’s our potential, and he says:
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me…”
When it says “learn from me” that word “learn” is the same word as “disciple”. The idea here is that we don’t learn how to be a disciple by studying Jesus from afar in a disconnected way. We become disciples and learn by standing right beside him and learning as we walk together, yoked together.
He says, v.29, “Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace…for I am gentle, and humble in heart…”
Gentle here means meek – but as we learned from our study of the Sermon on the Mount earlier this year meek is not wimpy and weak but actually means having great strength and power but choosing to not abuse it. So the idea of gentleness, withholding your ability to overpower, is what meekness really means. Jesus says he is gentle – meek – powerful but choosing kindness.
Humility is to know that you are not the biggest game in town. It means to be God-reliant rather than self-reliant. If Jesus is this surely we should be too – and yet too much of the time we act as if everything is dependent on us and us alone. Like Jesus we should be humble in heart – God-reliant in our core.
He keeps telling us we’re like him – that’s our goal – to be Christlike.
He has great power but uses it gently – so to shall we.
He has the ability to be self-reliant but chooses God-reliance because it’s even more powerful to be humble – so to shall we.
Is that weird to hear?
Is it strange to think of yourself in those kinds of terms? Of being powerful and capable of so much?
If your image has always been that Jesus is way up high and untouchable and we’re not worthy and all that, and now you’re hearing that instead of being up on a pedestal Jesus wants to be right beside you under the same yoke working together as partners – it can be a bit disorienting – especially if you’re feeling soul-weary and are carrying heavy burdens.
But this isn’t meant to challenge us to be Superman or Wonder Woman or whatever. You have to take the whole thing together.
It begins with an invitation to see.
Jesus affirms his unique relationship with God and offers to reveal it to us.
It’s ours to see and to join in with.
We can know God like Jesus does!
What holds us back is that sometimes life beats us down and leaves us soul-weary and burdened. And in those moments Jesus says to us that we aren’t alone! We don’t have to carry the load ourselves. And if we let him, Jesus will walk every step right alongside us. Joined together in every way. Breathing renewed life into our weary souls as we go – not magically making our burdens go away but offering to carry them with us.
“Come to me, all you that are weary, and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The life of faith is not a recipe for escaping life’s challenges, unloading all your struggles, and kicking back and taking it easy.
Instead, it’s an invitation to transformation.
It’s an assurance that you don’t have to have it all together and all figured out before you come.
It’s a reminder that we’re all burned out and beat down in our own ways but that is not the final word.
It’s a promise that those who come, those who learn to see, those who open their hearts and allow Spirit to move, will indeed find rest, refreshment, and renewal.
And in the midst of that pause, that rejuvenation, that resurrection, there is a calling to walk alongside Jesus, learning from him, loving like him.
If you think a life of faith is all sunshine and unicorns, or that you have to be an independent superhero to live it out then the joke’s on you.
But if you think a life of faith is more like surrender, humbleness, openness, selflessness, vulnerability, transformation, willingness, gentleness, devotedness, abidingness, and a calling of sharing loving-kindness then the yoke’s on you.
And it’s a good one!