“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Before the industrial revolution, bulls or oxen were used to pull farming machinery, so Jesus’ audience would have been familiar with this image. Apparently the animals would work either alone or be paired up and fitted for their yoke, which would be individually contoured to the unique curve of their muscular backs and shoulders. The harness was never off the peg, but made to measure. The farmer would try it out, then return with his animals to get their yoke adjusted, perhaps several times, until it fitted perfectly. The animals’ strength was vital to their task, but so too was their comfort and health.
Pulling a plough. Munching up cornflakes. Walking around in shoes that fit you.
Doing most things in life involves surfaces making contact with each other.
Movement proves we are alive. And things have got to fit well together or they become worn and damaged. Especially if you’re talking about solid wood vs an ox’s shoulder blades. Or new Doc Martins or rigid plastic vs human skin.
My yoke is easy to bear and my load is light.
What does that mean then?
The religious system back then was complicated, entwined within the overarching control of the Roman empire. There were laws, and some more laws, and then even more laws to regulate the original laws. It was unnecessarily complicated and underpinned by a corrupt, multi-layered power structure that was designed to keep people subdued. To keep them on the fringes. To oppress.
Religion was hard.
Jesus’ method was ground-breaking in its simplicity: love God and love people. That sums up everything you need to know. It’s not easy, but neither is it difficult to understand.
Because it’s life. And growth. And movement. And work.
The seasons don’t stop and there’s farming to be done.
The work required might be demanding, but it’s designed for you and I’ll kit you out with what you need. It’s tiring and exhausting sometimes, but following me is not damaging. The yoke was crafted for you and look! I fit it at the other side.
There has always been inequality and power struggles.
In every society that ever existed and is yet to emerge, there are corridors of power and those who fight to maintain them.
But please know this – when God says: “We’re in this together,” He means it.