Aloha Friday Message – July 4, 2014 – The Yoke’s on You

1427AFC070414 – The Yoke’s on You

Read it online here, please.

Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves; for my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Have you ever had a day when it just seems there is too much work left at the end of the day? I’d like there to see much more day at the end of the work! Jesus says if I take up his yoke, I’ll feel better about the end of today and the beginning of tomorrow.

What is a yoke, anyway? Here’s what the Greek word ζυγός (zugos) {dzoo-gos’} means: “a wooden bar placed over the neck of a pair of animals so they can pull together; (figuratively) what unites (joins) two people to move (work) together as one,” like this:

        So the idea is that two work together as one. Another image is like a balance that has two pans balanced on either side of a fulcrum . Whatever you do to change one side affects the other.

A yoke can also be worn by one person to do the work of two more easily. One example is carrying a heavy load balanced on a yoke across the shoulders, like this.

A yoke, then, is something that keeps us joined so that we can work together with more control. It is a tool that allows us to share a burden and lighten it. A yoke allows a wider span of control – I can carry two heavy buckets instead of one, control a team of oxen, or even a prisoner. A yoke can be used to force an animal or a person to carry a heavy burden. It can be used as a device of punishment or even torture. We even talk about being “under the yoke of oppression.”

When Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and by burden is light” what is he telling us? This passage only exists in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew’s community of predominantly Jewish converts to Christianity believes it is only possible to be a true disciple of Jesus if one keeps The Law (See Matthew 5:1 7-20). Jesus was critical of the heavy burden the Pharisees laid on people of Israel. Matthew presents him as a second law-giver, a new Moses – just as Paul saw Jesus as a new Adam – Jesus saw hypocrisy in the actions and attitudes of the Pharisees and that hypocrisy imprisoned and oppressed the people who were the nation of Israel. Here’s what he said: Matthew 23:4 – They tie up heavy burdens [hard to carry] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.

Jesus is saying that, compared to what the Pharisees taught with their hundreds of nit-picky little rules about every little detail of life, Jesus’ “rule” – his yoke – was easy. Here is another word that has a rich depth of meaning. The word is χρηστός chréstos (khrase-tos’) – and it carries the meaning of fitting well, of being useful, pleasant to use, and even kind/gentle. Jesus commands his disciples to love one another. The Pharisees demand the people to obey the law. By comparison, Jesus yoke – his rule for togetherness – is a better fit, kinder, gentler, more useful that the Pharisees’ harsh, judgmental stance.

But Jesus does ask a lot of us in his Law of Love. How much is “a lot?” We start out with “love God and love your neighbor with equal intensity.” Then, as we saw just over a year ago, it became “Love one another in the same way as I have loved you.” That is still a lighter yoke than the heavy demands of THE LAW. Keeping THE LAW is tiring. Sharing THE LOVE is not.

But don’t you get tired of all those “Goody-Two-Shoes?” I’d answer that, “Not really.” Here’s why: “… learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” Instead of the prideful one-upmanship of the Pharisees used to control  people, Jesus asks for the humble docility of the disciples be used to serve people. Paul touched on this in his letter to the Galatians. Galatians 6:9-10 Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up. So then, while we have the opportunity, let us do good to all, but especially to those who belong to the family of the faithful which is the Christian household or church. Doing good has a universal object (to all), but the local community makes specific the reality of those to be served.

OK, but does it really make any difference? I mean, nobody¸ is going to notice. Haven’t you ever heard “no good deed goes unpunished?” Sometimes when we go out of our way to be kind or generous or thoughtful, it doesn’t work out well. It’s true; people often “bite the hand that feeds them.” We also say, “Virtue is its own reward.” Well, sometimes it seems life doesn’t always work out that way. What Paul is saying is that when we live our lives consistently for the purpose of “doing the right thing,” it may not always pay off in immediate rewards, but in the long run it will always bring a great harvest. It is not tiring to be nice, to be as loving as Christ’s Law of Love commands. And believe me, God notices.

Take a look at what Paul wrote in his letter to the Hebrews. Hebrews 6:10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name by having served and continuing to serve the holy ones. Paul knows what he’s talking about because he understood what Jesus was saying. Instead of being subject to THE LAW, Jesus life, death, and resurrection freed us from THE LAW and all the “silly little things” the Scribes added on to make it even more complicated and convoluted. Jesus call his disciples to find rest and peace in the simplicity of obedience to his Law of Love.” John 15:10“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

So, if we take on Jesus’ yoke, it’s more than “Love God and love neighbor.” It is how we can love God and neighbor the way God loves God and neighbor? Yes. Exactly! And when we learn from Jesus, that is an easy yoke which brings peace and rest. My mind and body may grow weary, but my soul is refreshed by him.

“Take my yoke upon you.” How, exactly, does that work? Remember that a yoke is a way to unite two individuals so they can pull together; what unites two people to move together as one. Work beside Jesus as his disciple and “The Yoke’s on You.” (Sorry, that’s too hard to resist.) When you are working with him, side-by-side, you are “yoked together.” And when you share Jesus’ yoke with others, you are also yoked with them.

OK, I get it; but what’s that think about being “unequally yoked?” That’s in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. It says we should Stop forming inappropriate relationships with unbelievers. Can right and wrong be partners? Can light have anything in common with darkness?  Can Christ agree with the devil? Can a believer share life with an unbeliever?” But we also need to remember that we can experience what some have called “sanctification by association.” Paul taught that if a Christian marries a non-Christian, the home and its children are sanctified (blessed, consecrated, purified, approved) by the presence of the believing spouse. Here again, the yoke of loving service brings rest and peace to all who are joined together by it. Rather than a yoke of oppressive control it is a union of inspirational freedom, freedom to love and to be loved as God has loved us – perfectly.

How can I “get into” this yoke Jesus is talking about? Start by getting rid of what you don’t