There’s a legend about Jesus’ life before he began his public ministry. The story goes that Jesus was a master carpenter, and his specialty was making yokes. Jesus made such good yokes that people would come from all over to him to have him make yokes for their oxen.
Jesus lived in an agricultural society where most people made their living by farming and livestock. For the heavy work of plowing --a team of oxen was used. For the oxen to work well together - they needed a yoke. A yoke is a long wooden beam that fits over the necks of the animals – the yoke harnesses their collective strength in order to pull that plow, a cart, or some other heavy load. Good yokes that fit well- were in high demand.
In order for a yoke to work just right, the farmer would actually bring his oxen to the carpenter- who would measure the animals. Then, when he had roughed out the yoke- the farmer would bring back the oxen for a final fitting. The carpenter would line the yoke with cloth or leather -so that the yoke would not chafe against the necks of the animals and hurt them. It was a tricky business- because the wood had to be crafted just right. If the yoke was too tight- it would dig into the animals’ necks- choking them. If the yoke was too loose –well - the oxen couldn’t work well together. The legend has it that the yokes Jesus made were always perfect--they fit easily--making the burden seem light. It was said that the sign over Jesus’ shop read: “My Yokes Fit Well.” How appropriate it is then - that today we hear the words from the master yoke maker - Jesus – who invites us to take up his yoke upon us to give us rest for our weary souls. To make our burdens light.
In Jewish tradition, it is said- to be in a right relationship with God - is to accept the yoke of heaven. God created human beings to be yoked. As the saying goes, “We are better together.” Think about it – throughout life we find ourselves needing help. From the time we are helpless infants in our parents’ arms – until we are aged – dependent on care givers and canes -- and every age we pass in between- we will always need guidance, support, encouragement along the way. We need to be yoked to something or someone stronger--greater -than ourselves - to reach our goals. We need family, friends, teachers, mentors – guides. We especially need a yoke when we have really tough loads to carry – like an illness – or when we struggle to pay the bills – or when there is friction in our family. We all carry heavy burdens throughout our lives. Life is hard and throws curve balls at us – often when we least expect it. When that happens - we need the yoke of heaven to see us through.
Today in our gospel lesson --Jesus uses the image of a yoke to explain what it means to be in relationship to God through him. Being yoked to Jesus means we live out our lives with Jesus as our main support – our one true guide. We don’t go through life alone – Jesus is there -- alongside us- many times he actually carries us. Jesus wants to encourage us – – his yoke is easy – because he is gentle and humble of heart. His gentleness and humility line the yoke – making it the key reason in why Jesus’s yoke fits us so well.
I love the description of gentleness from Isaiah 43:3 Isaiah says: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” Isn’t that a beautiful way to describe how gentle God is with us? God doesn’t force a damaged reed to be bend any further – so it doesn’t break in half. A flickering candle will not be touched – so the weak flame can stay lit. Jesus knows exactly where we are bruised by life – Jesus knows where our light is dim and needs help to stay lit. Remember how Jesus dealt with sinners and those on the down and out? He wasn’t harsh. He was kind. He drew near to them. He ate and drank with them. And they loved him for it.
Jesus treats us the same way. Jesus understands our struggles. So, Jesus seeks to build us up. Jesus is patient with us. He understands life can get tough. So, he lines his yoke with gentleness to help us bear the burdens we must carry.
Humility is the other ingredient that makes Jesus’s yoke fit us well. Humility is often misunderstood. Many think of humility as poor self-esteem or being timid. Jesus was far from timid. Remember how he drove out the money changers in the temple? Remember how he constantly confronted religious leaders who were hypocrites? Jesus is strong but humble. Think also about Moses - the great and powerful leader and liberator of the Israelites. The Old Testament scriptures call Moses the humblest man on the face of the earth (Num. 12:3). Yet Moses confronted Pharaoh – he confronted the Israelites when they sinned. The Christian author- C. S. Lewis - gives - what I think is a great definition of humility -- “Humility is not thinking less of yourself -- but thinking of yourself less.” “Let that sink in! Jesus -our Lord and Savior - doesn’t lord over us. Jesus does not act high and mighty with us. Jesus instead walks alongside us – as a trusted companion. Jesus’s humility lines his yoke -to help us manage the burdens of life.
The yoke of our humble and gentle Jesus is a perfect fit. With Jesus we can carry the burdens the world places on us. More importantly, we find rest for our souls. The word for rest here means more than just getting a break or some peace and quiet. It means to renew – to rejuvenate – to revitalize. Jesus’s yoke restores our energy and increases our sense of purpose!
At the New York City Marathon in 2021 – Jamel Melville of Queens had two hundred meters to go to get the finished line – but then suddenly-- he collapsed. Other runners stopped - putting aside their own races– they picked him up and supported him across that finish line. That’s what the yoke of Jesus looks like – Jesus picks us up when we fall – and Jesus support us and helps us to cross the finish line. Jesus renews our life.
The bottom line is -- We all struggle. Life bruises us. From time to time our light goes weak. We need help, support and encouragement all along the way.
So today, if you are faced with a burden that seems to heavy, a load that is overwhelming - turn to Jesus. If you are feeling burnt out and without a sense of purpose, turn to Jesus. Take his light and easy yoke upon you. This yoke lined with gentleness and humility- it will fit you perfectly. So, choose him today – and you will find rest – rejuvenation – reinvigoration - for your soul. He will pick you up and support you- and you will be able to cross whatever finish line lies ahead. Amen