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Come Here (part two of three)

“Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, 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

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…” What an odd thing for Jesus to say to someone who is weary and burdened (even if He is gentle and humble in heart). You’d think the obvious response would be, “If I understand what a yoke is, then, no thanks, I’m weary and burdened already. Can you just handle that yoke yourself?” It sounds as if Jesus is saying, “Has life got you so worn down you're ready to give up? Then join me. I'll put you to work and you’ll find the rest you need.” Excuse me? That math just doesn’t add up in my book as a modern American. If I’m tired and weary and need some rest then I’m not going to get out my to-do list (or anyone else's for that matter) and get to work, I’m going to… forgive my impudence… rest.

Unless, of course, Jesus is talking about some kind of yoke I'm unfamiliar with. Perhaps it’s a first century reference to some relaxing activity. I’m imagining something that requires a horizontal position with feet up and comfy pillows all around. Maybe there is soft music and candlelight involved. Could this yoke be more like a heated body wrap that prepares my sore muscles for a tranquil massage that Jesus means to demonstrate? If so, then by all means, “Yes! I'll take two yokes please.”

But alas, Jesus is most likely referring to the wooden device that has been around for eons. A carved beam that is laid across the necks of two oxen which joins them together in order to control their will and to harness their power. This piece of equipment allows a team of trained bovine to pull a plow or some heavy load for their human masters. What is Jesus saying? Is this an invitation to switch careers and join Him in the hard and sweaty work of farming the world’s soil for the Kingdom of God? If so, then I repeat... that doesn't sound restful at all. In fact the yoke is a contraption that looks and sounds more like a form of medieval torture—for man or beast.

In my limited research I realized that oxen are similar to dogs in many ways. They both must learn to wear a foreign apparatus around their necks and to follow the lead of someone in authority over them. They both must also learn to submit their wills in trust and obedience to a master. For cattle, one technique to train them is to yoke an older mature ox with a younger untrained one. The younger learns how to behave while in the yoke by following the example of the other. In this way the lead ox bears the majority of the burden while the younger one struggles to discover that submission is essential before true cooperation can begin.

If I want to know this rest Jesus has to give me—that of the soul rather than the body—then I must cooperate. I must come when He calls and allow the yoke to be fitted. There's no getting around the fact that it feels rather barbaric, possibly bordering on cruel. Not only does it hamper the way I can move about, it also seriously limits my future choices in life. I am essentially bound together with the One I'm yoked to; no longer free to do as I please. If I struggle and fight, not only does the yoke feel heavy and cumbersome, it hurts! But if I submit and follow the Master's lead—letting my older more experienced partner teach me—I find something astonishing. The strictures of this new reality that confines me also becomes the uniting factor that makes us a team. We are no longer two but one. One in purpose and direction; speed and determination. While I may not be able to romp about in the freedom of autonomy any longer, I have something better. I am loved. I am never alone. Unlike the physical yoke that binds a team of draft animals, the yoke that binds me to my Savior is a spiritual and permanent one. He will never leave or forsake me.

I still have much to learn from this One who is called gentle and humble in heart, but I’m yoked and ready to get to work, or rest, or both...

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