It was a very busy and hurry pre Covid-19 world, church to attend on Sundays, calls, visits, emails, meetings, and people to see Mondays to Fridays, shopping and sport activities on Saturdays – running neck-and-neck. The fact remains, under ‘the frenzied pace of our culture’ that ‘kills inner peace,’ one can be so busy and be guilty because atimes industriousness may amount to burdens which does not indicate or determine level of success and growth.
Now, in an age of Covid-19 when the yoke of life and especially the pandemic is getting too much to bear, Jesus’ word in our lectionary reading provides us a helpful reflection. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labour 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” (Matthew 11: 28-30). The missional invitation in this reading is what the Church and we as Christians should model and seek to present to the world, a faith, a way of life and salvation, that is indeed an easy yoke and a light burden for the “heavy laden” of Covid-19 pandemic and most especially pandemic of sin and unbelief.
Let us look at what a yoke is through two lenses, as a farming cart pulling equipment and as Jesus’ missional offer, “Take my yoke upon you.” In farming system, ‘a single animal on a single yoke will likely wear itself out before the ground is broken. But two beasts pulling in partnership with a double yoke can tend the land all day long.’ A yoke is therefore ‘a heavy wooden harness that fits over the shoulders of an ox or oxen. It is attached to a piece of equipment the oxen are to pull. A “heavy laden” animal has a big load to pull.’ One of the main ‘value of a yoke is that it halves the load. Without a yoke, one cow’s got to pull that entire load by itself. But if you yoke up the cow with another cow, then the two animals pull the load together, and the load is half as heavy.’
From our understanding of the value of a yoke as ‘a board with two arches in it that you put over two cattle so they can pull a cart, when Jesus says “Take my yoke upon you,” He is not asking us to carry extra luggage of problem but that we should be on board with him, on the same eternal flight as a yokefellow. Just as the world is “heavy laden” with pandemics, divisions and wars, a “heavy laden” person may be burdened with sin, excessive demands and hypocrisy of religious and political leaders – oppression and persecution, and weariness in the search for God (Matt 23:4, Acts 15:10). This world is full of trials and tests, hence we all have concerns with potentials to cause fears, worries, uncertainties, unbelief and anxieties. Using the words of George Duffield, Jr, the arm of flesh will continue to compound the world’s pandemics if we fail to stand up for Jesus in His strength alone and in response to His invitation. Jesus’ missional invitation is with promises – love, healing, and peace with God, bearing in mind that ‘a relationship with God changes meaningless toil into spiritual productivity and purpose.’ Jesus’ easy yoke through the usage of three notable verbs in Matthew 11 is an invitation to become His yokefellow – to come, to take, and to learn (vs 28-30). Using the words of John Wesley, Jesus’ words “Come to Me” is an open invitation, to everyone who need ‘rest from the guilt of sin by justification, and from the power of sin by sanctification.’ To “Come” to Jesus is to be yoked with Him and thereby becoming His disciple, following His missional plan and purpose in life. Jesus’ words is counter-cultural to the heavy burdens being laid upon the people just as the Jewish scribes and Pharisees were laying heavy burdens upon the people (Matt 23:2-4). Human standard results in no rest, but only empty toil.
Jesus’ easy yoke is a call to move together with Him just as the early disciples were yoked with Him in prayer, mission, and worship. The truth is that Jesus’ easy yoke is not an assurance that life is going to be easy. The easy yoke for Daniel was to shut his door and open the window to pray to God. The easy yoke in the fiery furnace for Daniel and his friends was worship. The easy yoke for David was for him to return the borrowed armour of King Saul before he faced and killed Goliath. The easy yoke of Jesus Christ is our rescue from the yoke of sin and sickness. Prayer as true intercession arises first out of our communion, yokefellow with Jesus, just as worship is the corporate yoke expression of this communion truth. For Daniel and his friends, the yoke of prayer was easy, the burden of prayer was light, for we pray in through Jesus himself and in the Spirit who prays within us. The yoke of prayer, mission, evangelism, and worship inspired by the Holy Spirit are easy as we witness and grasp God’s renewing life, receiving forgiveness and healing.