‘Come to me’ says Jesus. ‘Unburden yourself, and find the peace, the love, and the God you’re searching for, and then share the love and peace of God through your lives in the world. '
Paul talks about the struggle to do what he knew he ought to do, the easy temptation to listen to the voice telling him to do the opposite, and the reason why he was sharing this intimate bit of knowledge about himself with the Church in Rome, and, possibly inadvertently the whole world for generations to come (be careful what you commit to paper!)?
It was because he realised that he was not alone. He knew that there were others just like him. That this burden that he was carrying around on his shoulders was really an issue which, for him and for many others, was something that needed to come out into the open and be dealt with once and for all, rather than be a continual struggle which just weighed everyone down.
And Paul knew from first-hand experience how this happened, because he had been a faithful Pharisee and to the orthodox Jew life their religious life was a real burden, constantly worrying if what they were doing constituted work on a Sabbath or contravened some other more trivial (we might think) Law.
Jesus himself said this off the Pharisees, ‘So obey everything they teach you, but don’t do as they do. After all, they say one thing and do something else. They pile heavy burdens on people’s shoulders and won’t lift a finger to help.’ (Matthew 23:4).
So, Paul himself as a Pharisee had been responsible for loading more than a few burdens on people himself. That had been the life he knew and he was still struggling to break out of that mindset. Religious life for the strict Jew was (and still is!) full of endless rules and regulations which had to be observed. The Law controlled their lives and everything they did had to be considered in the light of the Law and a decision made as to whether that was OK or not.
Can you begin to imagine how much of a burden that might be. We might think we have a lot of laws, but there is also a lot of freedom within them – not so in Jesus’ day.
Jesus himself got into trouble more than once, for things like healing someone on the Sabbath, which was ‘work’ and therefore prohibited. I’m guessing that you could get used to that sort of life, but it’s not a lot of fun, is it? Reminds me of videos of life in authoritarian countries like North Korea where the population are in constant fear of imprisonment or worse for saying or doing the wrong thing, and always having to look over their shoulder to see who’s watching.
What kind of life is that? The demands of the Law can be a very real burden. In our Gospel reading, Jesus is speaking to people who are wanting to do the right thing, wanting to please God, wanting to know God better and were basically finding it almost impossible, rather like Paul’s lovely illustration.
Where is God to be found? In the Law?
People who were weary of their daily struggle to carry this almost impossible burden, and who would have loved to find a better way, a less stressful way and a way that they could embrace, but there seemed nowhere to go, they were stuck with their burden and just had to carry it around with them.
Until Jesus, of course!
Thing is, they hadn’t really cottoned on to who Jesus was. Word had spread about him, and people were flocking to wherever he went, but his teaching was not easy to understand sometimes, you had to go home and mull it over, work out what he was saying – it was part of Jesus’ teaching style, not to just spoon feed people, but excite them into wanting to understand the radical things he was saying ……. and now he addresses the problem of burdens!
And this is a model of how mission or evangelism should be done. Want to share your faith with others? Because you should do really!
I bet you share with friends if you’ve had a nice holiday or bought something nice, or maybe you’re celebrating some anniversary that means a lot to you. Well, does your faith mean a lot to you, and if so then isn’t it good to share that.
How do you do that?
Well, one good way is to see how Jesus and the apostles worked. Know your audience, find the things that they are searching for and not finding and offer them a bridge between where they are now and where they need to be. And that bridge, for these people, says Jesus, is the yoke that he offers. Paul more-or-less says the same thing to the readers of his letter in Rome.
Your burdens and those of your friends, and people you have may conversations with may well be different but Jesus offers the same answer.
‘If you are tired from carrying heavy burdens, come to me’.
‘If you are looking to draw closer to, or wanting to know more about God, come to me’.
The Pharisees thought that the way to God was through adhering to the letter of the Law, written down in volumes by the Scribes.
Jesus says, ‘Come to me’.
The Pharisees, the authorities and many others complained about John the Baptist, saying that the simple and austere life he led in the wilderness, cut off from society and isolated, was a sign of madness.
There was talk of Jesus mixing with all kinds of undesirable people like tax collectors, lepers and sinners, even partying with them, which obviously indicated lax morals.
People were not only curious but probably a bit wary of what Jesus might be all about. Prophets like Zechariah, who we heard right at the start of our service had promised better times ahead, a life unburdened by all that the People of Israel had been through over the centuries, but was that time now?
Was John the Baptist who he said he was, the messenger telling them that their time had come? Was Jesus, who partied with sinners, God’s chosen one?
Life was confusing! They didn’t have the benefit of hindsight like we do, it was all happening in from of their eyes.
Jesus knew what was being said behind his back, he knew what was in their minds, and he knew that they were searching for those better times that God had promised through his prophets. God had sowed the seeds of hope in their minds and now Jesus would be the soil in which they placed those seeds.
‘Come to me…’ he says, ‘Come to me because it is through me that you will know God and find the peace and rest that you so desperately search for. If you want to know the mind of God, the heart of God, the nature of God, come to me. If you want to see God’s plan for humankind then look at me.
Unburden yourselves on me, let me help you with all that is weighing you down. Let me be the one to not only make it easier for you to carry your own burden but let me be the one to take it from you.
Then take my yoke instead and wear that, because this one is not going to make you weary and drag you down, it will help you lift your head up again because it is made to fit you perfectly.
All Jesus asks from us, his yoke, is to live and share his love.
The Jews used the phrase ‘the yoke’ to mean being in submission to something, like the Law. Jesus used it in a different way by saying his yoke was ‘easy’, which in the Greek can mean well-fitting.
There’s a legend that a younger Jesus, when at his father’s carpentry shop, made the best ox-yokes in Galilee, and that farmers came to their workshop from far afield, such was his reputation. Perhaps the workshop had a sign above that said, ‘My yokes fit well!’
Just a legend, but he was a carpenter, all things are possible!
When Jesus says, ‘come to me, my yokes fit well’ he means that a person’s life, their purpose and task is lovingly made to measure by God to reflect his love in the world.
God only asks us to do what we are able to do, and equips us well. The yoke is placed on us lovingly and is meant to be carried in love, for in the end it is love that makes even a heavy burden seem lighter.
Do you remember the old story that found its way into a pop song some years ago, about the man who came across a young lad carrying a smaller lame child on his back? ‘That’s a heavy burden to carry.’ The man says. ‘Ah no!’ replies the lad, ‘He aint heavy, he’s my brother!’
‘Come to me’ says Jesus. ‘Unburden yourself, and find the peace, the love, and the God you’re searching for, and then share the love and peace of God through your lives in the world.