Monday, June 29, 2020

Comment on a Lectionary Reading: Matthew 11.16–19, 25– 30

But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ’We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds. … At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 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.”


Life is filled (and sometimes overfilled) with problems, issues, questions, and crises. It’s part of what it means to live in a world corrupted by sin. So, it is no surprise that one thing that we all desire is a little rest, getting away from all of that. Different people define what ‘a little rest’ looks like in different ways. For some, it’s vacation time. For others, it’s ‘just a little time for myself’. And then, for others, it’s taking something that makes it all just fade away. Sometimes life just gets to be a bit much.

Jesus knows what this life is like. Remember, He was here. So, He knows all about how we ‘labor and are heavy laden’. He understands our weariness with the burdens of life.

Knowing these things, He gently responds to what we are feeling.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
This is one of the glories of the Gospel: the gift of rest.

Contrary to what some might think, this rest that Jesus offers is not something that is reserved exclusively for the age to come. No, we can begin, right now, to experience the rest that Jesus is talking about. We can begin now and then see our experience of rest grow bit by bit.
So, what are we to do so that we can gain this rest? Jesus explains.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me…
Jesus, being the wise teacher that He is, makes use of an item that would have been familiar to the farmers in His audience. A yoke is a farming tool. It joins two animals, usually oxen, so that they can pull a plow. But the people in His audience were not merely farmers. They were Jewish farmers. So, they would have been familiar with a yoke as imagery since it was used as such rather frequently in their Scriptures. A yoke was used as an image of submission to someone or something. One place that you will find this imagery is in the writings of the prophets of Israel. You can take a look at Jeremiah 27.2-7; 28.10-11 for a good example of a yoke as an image of submission.

This explains what Jesus is doing here. He is telling His audience (and us!) that rest can be found by submitting to Him. It is as we do this that we can learn about - be taught about - rest. This shouldn’t strike you as all that strange. It’s just another way of talking about Jesus as our Lord.

Now, I imagine that this will seem odd to many. And that is because they can’t see how submission, something that is commonly seen as a kind of slavery, can lead to rest, something that is commonly seen as freedom. But odd or not, it is what Jesus said. He gives rest to those who submit to Him in the way that a pair of oxen submit to a farmer.

Jesus anticipates some objections when He says,
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
According to the way that our culture thinks, submission is hard. It is oppressive. It is crippling. And, of course, that is true if the one to whom you submit is harsh and demeaning. But that’s not Jesus.

I am gentle and lowly in heart…
So, submission to Him can’t be hard, oppressive or crippling. No, instead it will be freeing. It will be rest.

Coming to experience Jesus’ rest is something that needs to be learned. And that means that it will take time. We have some old, worthless habits that need to be exposed for what they are so that they can be rejected. We still think and act in ways that need to be repented of. And there are new ways of looking at life that we will need to work at understanding. To be sure, we will struggle with the process. But fortunately, Jesus is a very patient teacher. We might give up on Him, but He will never give up on us.

The offer is before us. All it will take is for us to listen to Jesus and then to believe what He tells us.

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