Come to Me
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
It has been a delight this summer to remember the stories of the saints and to read and reflect on some of the church's early legends. There is a wonderful tale concerning the early years of Jesus' adulthood prior to his ministry in the Galilee. Scriptures tells us that Jesus' father Joseph was a carpenter, and yet there are few references to Jesus' craft as a skilled worker. He never speaks of tables and chairs, or cupboards and shelves. Oddly, we hear Jesus speaking more often about fishing and farming, than we do of carpentry- except perhaps, for this familiar and beloved passage in St. Matthew's gospel. "Come to me, all you labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
Scottish theologian William Barclay writes of this legend. He states there is a cherished tradition that Jesus the carpenter was one of the master yoke-makers in Nazareth. People came from miles around for a yoke, hand carved and crafted by Jesus son of Joseph. When customers arrived with their team of oxen Jesus would spend considerable time measuring the team, their height, the width, the space between them, and the size of their shoulders. Within a week, the team would be brought back and Jesus would carefully place the newly made yoke over the shoulders, watching for rough places, smoothing out the edges and fitting them perfectly to this particular team of oxen. The Barclay suggests that the sign over the entrance to the workshop may have been a wooden yoke with the imprinted phrase, "My Yokes Fit Well." Well-fitting is a more accurate way of translating the word easy.
Unfortunately, most people today do not know the difference between a yoke and a harness. We're actually a bit annoyed by the thought of Jesus placing any burden around our necks. So what's the difference? A harness was put on one ox to guide that one, while a yoke was put on a pair or more to keep them together as they plowed and worked together. The yoke was a way of joining together two working oxen so they could pull a sleigh or work in a field together more effectively. This was often the case on farms, where an older well-trained ox would be used to train a new ox.
My friends, the yoke Jesus invites you to take, the yoke that brings rest to weary souls, is one that is made exactly to fit your life and heart. The yoke he invites you to wear fits you well, does not rub you nor cause you to develop sore spirits and is designed for two. The yoke Christ invites you to take is not a harness, but a way of connecting you to him to show you how to get the job done. "For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Peace, Pastor Arden Haug