Reading: Matthew 11:28-30
I spoke to an old acquaintance a few weeks ago who has had a change of job and with it a change of life. He had been the principle of a school, carrying a lot of stress and pressure and problems, but recently had taken a different job.
He went back into being a classroom teacher in a smaller school, where he had his class of kids to teach and that was it. I asked him if he was working less and he said: No, I may even be working more, but I no longer have to worry about every little thing in the school. That’s somebody else’s job. I am free of all that. Somebody else is in charge. I have a new life, and I’m loving it.
When I read this week’s gospel and began to study it, I remembered that conversation, and I thought now this is exactly what Jesus is talking about.
How heavy is your yoke? Most, if not all of us, would say that our yoke is anything but light – we struggle under its weight, so much gets loaded onto our plate. Our souls are often burdened and we are stressed and anxious.
Wouldn’t we all love to be able to live in these wonderful words of Jesus? To exchange all our worries and concerns for Jesus easy yoke – his light burden, and find rest for our souls?
Oh, to be free of all the pressure, to let go of it all for a while, to not have to, to not need to, to have nobody depending on you, to have time to think and relax and not carry a heavy burden on our shoulders. An easy yoke? Yes, please.
But the reality is that this fantastic offer of Jesus, this promise of rest and relief, is not one many of us take up. Here it is, on offer from the Lord but on the whole, as I look at my life and your lives, I see a lot of “burden carrying” and a lot of weighed down shoulders, bearing heavy yokes.
What is our problem? The problem is that we do not really understand what Jesus is saying to us. We think that what he is offering us is a rest – that is, a chance to hand over to him the burdens that we want to get rid of. We think that he is saying:Come on, swap yokes for a while – mine is light and you can have a break from carrying your heavy one.
We think that Jesus is offering us the opportunity to visit his spiritual rest station, and then get up and take up our burden again and go on.
But this offer from Jesus is much more than that. He is not offering us a rest fromour hectic lifestyle, but rest as a lifestyle.
He is not offering us a break from our worries and burdens, but offering us a new way of life, free from our heavy burdens. He is telling us to take his yoke – to lay down ours and take up his. It’s a call to a different way of living.
He is inviting us to learn from him what it means to be his – to live life in his kingdom, to lay all our burdens on him and to trust him – as a real alternative to trusting ourselves and our efforts and our work and our ability to cope and hold it all “together”.
When he offers us rest for our souls, this is not just a nice peaceful spiritual retreat, but a life of rest in Jesus, in which we let go of our heavy yoke and take on his light and easy one.
And this offer is maybe not so attractive to us – because if we lay down our heavy yoke it also means laying down control. It means seeking our security not in our ability to control our world, but in Christ’s ability to control our world.
Jesus’ invitation is then actually an invitation to repent of and turn away from our human desire to control our lives and, sometimes, the lives of others; laying down our need to do it ourselves, to have it our way, to make things work out as we want them, to be in charge. And that prospect is not so appealing. Because at least if we carry our own yoke and plough our own field, we know it will be done right – the way we want!
But Jesus doesn’t offer to be our saviour on our terms. He doesn’t offer to fill in the gaps in our lives, where we run out of puff and need a break.
He offers us a completely new life – a life in which he is Lord and where we trust him with all the things that make us worried and anxious, a life in which we allow him to work out our future and to find the way ahead for us, in which we let go and let him…
Jesus invites us to learn from him, for he is humble and gentle in heart. He invites us, in other words, to become his students – his disciples, and grow, like those twelve who lived with him during his earthly ministry, into being humble and ready to allow God to be in charge of our lives, open to his leadership. He wants to teach us to be gentle in heart, instead of needing to control our world and our future, or those around us.
He says take my yoke – be mine, and you will never have to carry a heavy burden again. Because when we belong to Jesus, he carries our burdens – our guilt, our sin, our anxiety and promises to lift these from us.
That doesn’t mean that we won’t be working – the Lord will still have work for us to do. Jesus doesn’t say: “Here take that yoke off your shoulders”, but “Take myyoke.” The difference is that we are free from being in charge, of being “Lord”. We no longer have to be Lord, because our life is under new management – Jesus Christ is Lord, through his death and resurrection and his claiming us in baptism.
We belong to him. All we have to do is the work we are given to do. The rest we leave in his hands.
Like the man I mentioned at the beginning – he is working still, maybe harder than before. But he is carrying a much lighter yoke, because he does not have to be in charge and be responsible for everything.
So Jesus invites us to a change of job and a change of life – from carrying the burdens of being the “Lord” of our life, to being his disciple and letting him carry our burdens.
He is Lord, and he holds the whole universe in his hands. He holds your life and the lives of all your loved ones in his hands too. In believing this, let us find rest for our souls.
This is the word of the Lord.