Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
The Rev. Melanie L. McCarley
I don’t know about you, but the image of oxen, yoked together and plodding through the fields doesn’t necessarily generate an image of comfort—particularly if you are asked to identify with the ox. Instead, it looks like work…hard work. Picture the oxen, their heads bowed, slowly pulling a great weight as they plod along. Row upon row they go….their toil, a rather uninspiring image of what our lives can become. I ask you. How can any of this possibly be good news?
Listen again to these words, spoken by Jesus in today’s gospel: “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.”
Our Savior’s words are something of a hard sell in today’s culture. Over-programed and overwhelmed as we are, it’s difficult to imagine how taking something on—particularly when that “something” is described as a “yoke” is going to make our lives better. “Really!” some of us might reason, My shoulder’s already feel as though they are carrying the weight of the world. Jesus should be telling us to let go of something—to get rid of something rather than taking on more.” Shouldn’t Jesus had said something akin to: “Cast off your burdens and let go of your worries and in me you will find the freedom for which your souls long?” Instead, it seems as though our Savior is asking us to take more on—rather than letting our burdens go.
Yet, in a way, I believe this is precisely what Jesus is suggesting. For just a moment, lay aside the typical connotations associated with a yoke—those of subservience and toiling. And consider the practicalities. A yoke is generally a wooden beam used between a pair of animals to unite them together so that they may pull a load. One strong ox can pull approximately 8,000 pounds. Now, that’s a lot of weight to carry and it’s pretty impressive in and of itself. We might think that if you yoke two strong oxen together they’d carry 16,000 pounds. Makes sense, right? However, in point of fact, they will carry over 26,000 pounds—10,000 more pounds using the same amount of effort. That’s true synergy.
From a spiritual point of view, think of what being yoked to Christ could mean in your life. Choosing a life of spiritual discipline—one which incorporates worship, daily prayer, reading the bible, engaging in good works, and trusting the Lord—this isn’t merely a way of adding more to an already over-burdened schedule. This is a way of living better, of living easier—because when you are yoked—when you are united to someone else, especially the Savior of the world, whatever burden you happen to be carrying does, indeed, become lighter because you are no longer carrying it all by yourself.
This morning, as we gather to baptize Bennett Hollenbeck, this child is not taking on a new burden—so much as a new identity—that of a child of God. As God’s child, Bennett isn’t released from the burdens of life. What he is offered is the opportunity to share them with his Savior, and to learn—day by day—that by sharing these burdens with Christ, the life he has been blessed with will indeed be easier. What’s more, the weight of the world that Bennett is able to bear will be increased, and because of this he will possess the ability to be more of a blessing to those around him. That’s important, because following Christ doesn’t mean that we receive a “free pass” from the work of the world—it means that we gain a new perspective, an added freedom, in the knowledge that we do not bear the burdens of this life alone, but share them with someone who is infinitely stronger and more compassionate than we are—even at the very best moments of our lives.
Looking at it another way—rather than plodding in circles round a field—working hard and effectively getting nowhere; being yoked to Christ brings us one slow step at a time closer to the Kingdom of God. It is a long road—taking a lifetime to walk; yet when we are united with our God, there is no concern that we might become lost.
If we have difficulty in understanding the concept of a yoke—I suggest that children do not. Years ago, the teacher of a school read the text, “My yoke is easy” to her class. Turning to the children she inquired, “Who can tell me what a yoke is?” A little boy replied, “Something they put on the necks of animals.” Then, the teacher asked, “What is the meaning of God’s yoke?” All were silent for a moment, when the hand of a five year old child went up and she said, “God putting his arms around our necks.” Now, what could be more comforting than that? In Jesus name. Amen.