Easy Yoke and Light Burden
March 7, 2021
We live in an age of “lite.” No, not light as in the light of the sun. No, not light like light as a feather. We live in an age of lite, like lite beer, lite butter, lite bread, light everything. Walk down the grocery aisles and you see all kinds of these modern innovations. There is even lite ice cream. Everything is lite but the price. They call the product lite but boost the price a little. The whole idea of lite permeates the culture. I once saw a cartoon of a church with a sign in the front yard. The sign proclaims, “The Lite Church.” In the small print are these words: “24% fewer commitments, home of the 7.5% tithe, 15 minute sermons, 45 minute worship services. We have only 8 Commandments—your choice. We use just 3 spiritual laws and have an 800-year millennium. Everything you’ve wanted in a church . . . And less!” That is quite a church.
In Matthew 10, Jesus gives some of his exacting teachings about discipleship. They are good teachings to ponder during this season of Lent. Jesus’ teachings are in stark contrast to “The Lite Church.” Perhaps you have read these in the past: Proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons (Matthew 10:7-8).” There is nothing lite about this assignment. Jesus then tells the disciples, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves . . . they will hand you over to the councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me…(Matthew 10:16-18).” Do you recall these words of Jesus? “Do not think that I have come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life will find it.” I’m sure some people have never heard these words of our Lord. They are not often remembered or quoted with sentimental fondness. There is nothing lite about the words of our Lord in chapter 10 of Matthew. According to Jesus, there is no lite discipleship and consequently no lite church.
Let’s move on to Matthew Chapter 11. Jesus continues to call people to follow him as he tells them what it means to be a disciple. In this chapter we recall a passage which many know from heart and which people over the centuries have taken great comfort in. Contrast this with Jesus’ words from Chapter 10. “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. (Matthew 11:28-30).” While Jesus first spoke to an ancient audience, these words are a powerful message for the 21st Century.
If ever there was a civilization which has placed heavy burdens on people it is ours. The yokes people wear are not easy nor are they comfortable. They chafe our necks. What kind of burdens do we carry? One of the big burdens is household debt. Total household debt in the USA is $14.35 trillion. Credit card debt: $807 billion. Mortgage debt: $9.86 trillion. Auto loan debt: $1.36 trillion. Americans carry a lot of debt in order to live the consumer lifestyle. Now if you think that’s a burden, let’s look at the burden Congress has laid on us. The latest figures report the National Debt as over $28 trillion. That’s $223,893 per taxpayer. And Congress ignores this terrible burden as they create more and more debt. The writer of Proverbs says, “…the borrower is a slave to the lender (Proverbs 22:7b).” While chattel slavery is illegal in America, debt slavery is not only legal but a real threat to the Nation’s wellbeing.
One of the terrible burdens of modern society is suicide, especially teen and young adult suicide. The suicide rate among that group has gone up significantly in the 21st century. Teens and young adults have quite a burden placed on them. Many have been pressed by their parents to participate in all kinds of activities. There are dance lessons, scouts, gymnastics, swimming lessons, self-defense lessons, ball games and the list goes on. I saw that pressure on my kids when they were in school. We limited them to two extracurricular activities. Some kids are yanked from class to class and lesson to lesson and club to club as parents desire their children to have everything and be successful. In his book, Following Christ in a Consumer Society, Fr. Kavanaugh writes, “Amy, 15, had always gotten straight ‘A’s’ in school, and her parents were extremely upset when she got a B on her report card. ‘If I fail in what I do,’ Amy told her parents, ‘I fail in what I am.’ The message was part of Amy’s suicide note.” Researchers now tell us that suicide among teens and young adult’s ranks second in cause of death below accidents. Jesus speaks to children whose well-intentioned parents are pressing them to be successes.
Jesus speaks to everyone who is caught up in the consumer drive for material success and who is discovering that the more they have the more they want and that happiness is far from them. The valued lifestyle in America is one where a person devotes him or herself to their work by working long hours and making as much money as possible while at the same time spending more than one makes so that one is caught in a disastrous spiral. Everyone at some level is drawn into this crazy way of living. The Hopi people of Arizona have a word which characterizes 21st century life: Ko-yaa-nis-qa-si. This defined as crazy life, life in turmoil, life disintegrating, life out of balance, a state of life that calls for another way of living. In biblical terms, it is living with a heavy yoke on one’s shoulders. For many in America their lifestyle is indeed a state of life that calls for another way of living.
Jesus speaks to those who find themselves caught up in crazy life, life in turmoil, life disintegrating, life out of balance and calls us not just to another way of living, but to life itself. Jesus says, “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 (Matthew 11:28-30).” Even though Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him, the burden he places on us is infinitely lighter than the burden of a sinful life. If you are caught up in a sinful life you are carrying heavy burdens. A sinful lifestyle is one where one carries a heavy yoke that chaffs one’s neck. Jesus will lift the burden of sin as you open your heart to him and genuinely turn to him. In Christ Jesus you will find forgiveness. He will lift the heavy burden from you and you will be freed for the genuine abundant life.
Jesus speaks about a yoke. We don’t see yokes these days. The days of draft animals whose necks are bound together by a wooden framework are in the past. Instead of yoked animals pulling plows in the fields, we see huge tractors. Yet the image the word yoke presents is of two animals bound together so they can use their combined energies to accomplish a task one animal alone could not. A yoke can mean a state of subjugation to an owner or master. Being yoked evokes the image of slavery. It can also mean bringing people together into a united whole. Marriage is a yoke which unites husband and wife. A yoke can be a symbol of unity. A yoke signifies a relationship. It also signifies Christ’s relationship with us. We are yoked together with Christ Jesus to accomplish more than we could if we were alone.
The Apostle Paul gives us another image of the yoke. In Galatians, he writes, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1).” In the Old Testament we see yoke used as pointing to slavery. The young King Rehoboam was approached by the people asking for him to reduce the burden his father had placed on them. He took the unwise counsel of his youthful friends and responded to their request: “‘Whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’ (2 Chronicles 10:11).” A yoke can also be a symbol of oppression. Paul tells us not to be subject to the yoke of slavery to sin but to live in the freedom Jesus gives us.
The reason Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden light is because we are bound to him, united with him. What we could never accomplish before now can be attained because of our relationship with him. Jesus calls us to take up our cross daily and follow him, and that can only be accomplished as we are yoked with him. The powers of the world want us in a state of servitude and slavery. While they want to enslave us, Jesus offers us genuine life in him. Only through the power of Christ Jesus can we hear and obey his words. If you try to do it on your own by your own powers you will not make it. Everything will be a burden and you will burn out. However, as you place your trust in Christ Jesus, you can deal with any burden that comes your way. You can be a disciple. You can have genuine life. You can enter into eternal life. However, only through Christ Jesus can you receive these things. Praise the Lord who offers us an easy yoke and a light burden.