Scripture: Matthew 11:25-30
Key verses: (28-30) “Come to me, all you that are weary and 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.”
Reflection: This is one of my favorite sayings of Jesus. When I was a lay person in Franklin, TN, my pastor, Dr. Tom Walker, would recite these words as he served communion to us. As a twenty-five-year-old banker striving to make my mark while struggling with a potential call to ministry, these words washed over me in grace.
However, reading them in their original context, I’m not sure these words were as comforting to the people who first heard them. This is the close of a sermon to the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. He has berated them for failing to turn to the Kingdom of God in response to the miracles he has performed in their cities. This is the only “hellfire and brimstone” sermon Jesus ever preaches to the crowds. He tells them, “It will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom” than for them on the day of judgment. That does not sound like an easy yoke or a light burden. That sounds heavy to me.
Those harsh words come after his instructions to the twelve in Matthew 10. In that address he warns the apostles that they will be “like sheep in the midst of wolves,” (Mt. 10:16,) and that they will be dragged before governors and kings because of him, and that they will be flogged and hated because of him. (Mt. 10:17-22) He’s told them that he has not come to bring peace on earth, but a sword, “to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother.” (Mt. 10:35-35) Not much of that sounds easy or light! In fact, it sounds heavy to me.
What are we to make of these words? What exactly is the rest Christ offers us? Tom Long’s commentary on Matthew offers a helpful word. He writes, “What Jesus offers is not a hammock, but a yoke. In Judaism, the yoke was a symbol of obedience to the law and wisdom of God. Likewise, Jesus’ yoke is obedience to the commandments of the kingdom of heaven, a willingness to serve others in humility and mercy. Jesus’ yoke is ‘easy,’ and his burden is ‘light,’ not because there is little to do or the way is safely paved. To the contrary, there is a cross to be carried…The yoke of Jesus is easy and his burden is light because it is the way of God, and it is profoundly satisfying to the human soul.” (Tom Long, Matthew, in the Westminster Bible Companion Series, p. 132.)
Looking back on hearing Tom Walker recite these words, I realize what was really happening for me was a call to ministry. While this call has not been easy or light, it is indeed profoundly satisfying. In answering this call, my soul has indeed found rest. What is Christ calling you to do today? It might not be easy or light as the world might view it, but in answering that call you will surely find deep satisfaction and rest for your soul.
Prayer: Open our ears to hear, our minds to see, and our hearts to receive your call to us this day, O Lord. Give us courage to respond that we might find our soul’s promised rest in you. Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].