A Musing on being Yoked 1/18/2023
Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who 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.” NRSV
In this passage, Jesus is inviting all who are weary and burdened to come to him for rest. The word "yoke" refers to a device that is used to attach oxen to a plow or other implement so that they can work together. When Jesus says, "take my yoke upon you," he is inviting his followers to work with him and follow his teachings, in the same way, that oxen work together with a yoke.
The phrase "learn from me" suggests that Jesus is offering to be a teacher or mentor to those who follow him. He also describes himself as "gentle and humble in heart," which suggests that he is approachable and willing to listen to others.
The promise of finding rest for one's soul suggests that following Jesus and learning from him will bring a sense of peace and fulfillment to one's life. This is supported by the phrase "my yoke is easy, and my burden is light," which suggests that the demands of following Jesus are not overly burdensome.
This passage is an invitation from Jesus to those who are feeling overwhelmed or stressed to turn to him for guidance and support and to find rest and peace in following his teachings.
It is beautiful and poetic and difficult to do because it involves work known as discernment.
The dictionary defines discernment as, “the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure; an act of perceiving something.” Now in the simplest terms, discernment is wisdom. But it is more than that because discernment is not just knowing but also doing.
I doubt you will find this surprising, but I don’t know very much about the yoking of animals and using them on farms. Of course, the truth is most of America and all modern farms no longer use animals yoked together for farm work. I imagine that only in Amish country would this practice be found.
However, in much of the world, and especially in developing nations, this is still a common practice. What I did not know until I researched this practice of yoking animals is that 1) every yoke is unique for each animal and 2) that the animals who respond best to being yoked are led by a kind driver who has built a relationship of trust with each animal.
I had no idea that yokes are fitted individually to animals. I assumed that one size fits all. Instead, while they are all similar in make and material, the farmer must fit them for each animal in order to protect the animal from injury and have it do its best work.
The same is true for you and me. While much of our faith life and walk with God is similar and based on the fundamentals of our corporate faith, each of us has our own unique relationship with God. It reminds me of my grandmother’s favorite hymn – In the Garden. Perhaps you remember the chorus.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me And He tells me I am His own And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known!
Even our Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order claims the individuality of our faith in the midst of the community (which we call the church) when it reminds us that God alone is the Lord of conscience.
And this is not a new idea; in fact, it goes back to the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith which says:
“God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commandments out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 6.109.)
So, while we live and work together, each of our calls and relationships with God is individual. Thus, we each serve and love and know God in a different way, and it is when we share our own knowledge of God with others we each grow in our fullness of knowledge and understanding.
The Good News, however, is that the one who leads us and holds the reign is a gentle and kind leader who never leaves us alone and loves and encourages us even when the row we plow is hard ground.
So, as we work together as the church, may we also continue to grow in our own personal relationship with our Lord. It is when we do both that we truly discover the good that is ours to do and further build our part of the Kingdom of God on earth even as it will be in heaven.