burden, cultural, inner motivation, intention, Jesus, law, Matthew, rabbi, The Sophia Center for Spirituality, Torah, yoke
A clear image comes to mind when Jesus says this morning (MT 11:28-30) “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” I see a team of oxen joined together by a wooden structure that keeps them together and joins them to a wagon that is full of supplies of some kind. That “collar” that joins them has always been known to me as their yoke. Whether or not the “burden” that the oxen are pulling is heavy or light, they themselves are heavy and so the yoke appears that way too.
Some years ago I heard a talk that gave me a new interpretation making the “yoke” Jesus was talking about more plausibly light. It seems that as rabbis began to interpret the Torah for their students they stressed different things in the law: care for the poor, personal piety, proper worship, etc. It did not mean that they jettisoned part of the given law but rather that they considered the community to which they were speaking, the cultural situation, etc. (just as we know the gospel writers did) and taught what was most needed for the people who were their disciples. Their interpretation came to be called their yoke. So when Jesus spoke of his yoke being easy and his burden light, he was calling us to the way of love and to what he came to reveal of the Kingdom of God. For those who truly grasp his message, it is not a question of the outer experiences of our lives being the determining factor in our assessment of ease or difficulty, but rather the inner motivation and intention that allow a vision and a path of light. It does not mean that we will never feel burdened but that we will be able to withstand our trials in light of the example of Jesus who came to share his “yoke” with us.