Matt. 11:16-19, 25-30
Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of 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 yoke of Jesus is love. To some, love is work and a burden. A yoke is something that constrains you and guides you to do it whether you like it or not. Just do it and you’ll get used to it. Except the yoke Jesus spoke of was not the image of a farm implement draped over a sheep’s shoulders. Have you ever seen a yoke on a sheep?
Jesus was talking about a different kind of yoke. The yoke of a rabbi was his specific teaching. It was his interpretation and how he understood the law, also known as the Torah, the body of instruction given to the children of Israel. If you think everyone understood the Law one way in the first century, you’d be wrong. Agreement in religious matters is as likely as agreement in politics.
Grossly exaggerated, there were as many interpretations of what Scripture meant as there were rabbis. A Jewish rabbi taught one of my classes at Vanderbilt Divinity School. He said they have identified at least 23 different Jewish sects (denominations) that existed in Israel at the time of Jesus. That’s not too different from 21st century Protestantism.
I looked up the Greek words for the verse and found meanings that make more sense to me. It sounds like this, “For my teaching (yoke) is more useful (easy) and my obligations (burdens) are easy to bear (light).”
Jesus’ teachings are “more useful.”
Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
“Don’t resist evil.”
“If someone takes your coat, give up your shirt also.”
“Do not judge…take log out of your own eye.”
If you repay evil with good, it slows and stops the cycle of never-ending revenge. When you act in the best interests of your enemies, it shows him/her that you’re not a threat to them. You’re a help to them. You disprove all the negative and untrue things that were taught about you. To spend time trying to improve yourself is a far more useful way to make an improvement in the world than in imagining you can change someone else’s actions.
The burden that Jesus lays on us is to be concerned for the good of others. The burden or obligation Jesus placed on us is love. It’s not easy, but it’s far more useful and effective. Jesus didn’t obligate us to follow all the laws of Moses.
St. Paul confirms this in his letter to the Ephesians (2:15), “He [Christ] has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace.” And in Romans (10:4), “For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”
In Romans 12:20 we read “Therefore if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he thirsts, give him a drink, for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Some say that by blessing our enemies they will come under a conviction that will feel like burning coals on their heads.
Yet “in that day and time, the expression ‘pouring coals’ on someone’s head offered a visual of something everyday people in ancient times faced on some occasion. Sometimes the household fire would go out, especially if the family went away for a while. To remedy this, a family member or household servant was sent to a neighbor with a receptacle on his/her head and requested that the neighbor pour some hot coals into the receptacle to bring back and start a new fire in the family’s hearth. It did not mean that coals would literally be poured directly on the hair and skin of the head, but into a receptacle carried on the head.
“Fire was to the ancient world what electricity is to the modern world. It gave light, warmth, cooked food, etc. It was a comfort and greatly needed and appreciated. To give another coals for a new fire was to give him all the things fire provided as well. Fire was a blessing, a valuable gift to be freely given.”
In Jesus’s words – love your enemies.
As far as I’m concerned, Moses’s yoke is easier to follow than Jesus’s yoke. Moses’s teaching is more like human nature. But Jesus’ teaching leads to restoration and peace rather than violence and escalating conflict. Maybe that’s why Jesus complained, “When the son of man returns, will he find faith on the earth?” Will anyone believe Jesus’s teachings enough to put them into practice?
Jesus’s teachings lead to the abundant life. That’s why we should follow Jesus’s example. It’s to our greatest benefit. Jesus’s teachings lead to a life of harmony and peace and hope for everyone.