We who live the West live in a time and place where almost every burden of manual labor has been eliminated. Not only that, but creature comforts abound in almost endless number and variety. Everything from air conditioning to hair conditioning, from fast food to 4G internet, from indoor plumbing to outdoor grilling, from instant computer downloads to instant coffee machines. You don’t even have to write a letter anymore; just press send and it’s there. Yet despite all this, it would seem we modern Westerners still keenly experience life’s burdens, for recourse to psychotherapy and psychotropic drugs is widespread.
It is increasingly clear that serenity is an inside job. Merely improving the outside and amassing creature comforts is not enough. A large fluffy pillow may cushion the body (until we get bored with it), but apparently not the soul.
Today, Jesus wants to work on the inside just a bit and presents us a teaching on being increasingly freed of our burdens. He doesn’t promise a trouble-free life, but if we will let Him go to work, we can grow in freedom and serenity. Jesus gives a threefold teaching on how we can experience greater serenity and freedom from our burdens. We do this by filiation, imitation, and simplification.
I. Filiation – The Gospel today opens with these words: At that time Jesus exclaimed: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
Note how Jesus contrasts the “wise and learned” with the “little ones.” And in so doing Jesus commends to us a childlike simplicity before our heavenly Father, our Abba, our “Daddy-God.” This is the experience of divine filiation, of being a child of God, of being one of God’s “little ones.” The wise, learned, and clever often miss what God is trying to do and say, and because of this, they are anxious and feel stressed.
It is possible for a person to study a great deal, but if he doesn’t pray (if he doesn’t go before God like a little child), he isn’t going to get very far. The Greek word translated here as “revealed” is ἀπεκάλυψας (apekalupsas) which more literally means “to unveil.” And only God can take away the veil, and He only does so for the humble and simple. Thus Jesus commends to our understanding the need for childlike simplicity and prayerful humility.
Half of our problems in life and 80% of the cause of our burdensome stress is that we think too much and pray too little. We have big brains and small hearts; and so we struggle to understand God instead of trusting him. Though our reason is our crowning glory, we must never forget how to be a little child in the presence of God our Father. No matter how much we think we know, it really isn’t very much. Jesus’ first teaching is filiation, embracing a childlike simplicity before our Daddy-God.
What does it mean to be childlike? Consider how humble little children are. They are always asking why and are unashamed to admit that they do not know. Children are also filled with wonder and awe; they are fascinated by the littlest as well as the biggest things. Children know they depend on their parents and instinctively run to them at any sign of trouble, or when they have been hurt. They trust their parents. Not only that, but they ask for everything; they are always seeking, asking, and knocking.
And thus Jesus teaches us that the first step to lessening our burdens is to have a childlike simplicity with the Father wherein we are humble before Him, acknowledge our need for Him, and recognize our dependence on Him for everything. He teaches us to have a simplicity that is humble enough to admit we don’t know much and want to learn from Him, a wonder and awe in all that God has done, and an instinct to run to God in every danger, or when we are hurt and in trouble. Above all, Jesus teaches us by this image to grow each day in our trust of Abba, and to have the confidence to ask Him for everything we need. The Book of James says, You have not because you ask not (4:2). An old spiritual says, I love the Lord; he heard my cry; and pitied every groan. Long as I live and troubles rise; I’ll hasten to his throne.
Yes, run! Run with childlike simplicity and trust.
So here is the first teaching of Jesus on letting go of our burdens: grow in childlike simplicity and trust before God our loving Father and Abba.
II. Imitation – The text says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest … for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. Jesus commends to us two characteristics of Himself that, if we embrace them, will give us rest and relief from our burdens. He says He is meek and humble of heart. Let’s look at both.
What does it mean to be meek? The Greek word is πραΰς (praus) and there is some debate as to how it is best interpreted. Simply looking at it as a Greek word, we can see that Aristotle defined “praotes” (meekness) as the mean, or middle ground, between too much anger and not enough anger. Hence the meek are those who have authority over their anger.
However, many biblical scholars think that Jesus uses this word most often as a synonym for being “poor in spirit.” And what does it mean to be poor in spirit? It means to be humble and dependent on God. By extension it means that our treasure is not here. We are poor to this world, and our treasure is with God and the things awaiting us in heaven. And here is a source of serenity for us, for when we become poor to this world, when we become less obsessed with success, power, and possessions, many of our anxieties go away. To the poor in spirit, the wealth of this world is as nothing. You can’t steal from a man who has nothing. A poor man is less anxious because he has less to lose and less at stake. He is free from this world’s obsessions and from the fears and burdens they generate. And so Jesus calls us to accept His example and the growing experience in us of being poor in spirit.
Jesus also says that He is humble of heart. The Greek word here is ταπεινός (tapeinos) meaning lowly or humble and referring to one who depends on the Lord rather than himself. We have already discussed this at length above. But simply note here that the Lord Jesus is inviting us to learn this from Him and to receive it as a gift. The Lord can do this for us. And if we will learn it from Him and receive it, so many of our burdens and anxieties will be lifted.
Here then is the second teaching, which Jesus offers us so that we will see life’s burdens lessened. He teaches us to learn from Him and receive from Him the gift to be poor in spirit and humble of heart. The serenity that comes from embracing these grows with each day, for this world no longer has its shackles on us. It cannot intimidate us, for its wealth and power do not entice us, and we do not fear their loss. We learn to trust that God will see us through and provide us with what we need.
III. Simplification – The text says, Take my yoke upon you … For my yoke is easy, and my burden light. The most important word in this sentence is “my.” Jesus says, MY yoke is easy, MY burden is light.
What is a yoke? Essentially “yoke” is used here as a euphemism for the cross. A yoke is a wooden truss that makes it easier to carry a heavy load by distributing the weight along a wider part of the body or by causing the weight to be shared by two or more people or animals. In the picture at left, the woman is able to carry the heavy water more easily with the weight across her shoulders rather than in the narrow section of her hands. This eases the load by involving the whole body more evenly. Yokes are also used to join two animals and help them work together in pulling a load.
What is Jesus saying? First, He is saying that He has a yoke for us. That is, He has a cross for us. Notice that Jesus is NOT saying that there is no yoke or cross or burden in following Him. There is a cross that He allows, for a reason and for a season.
Easy? But Jesus says the cross HE has for us is “easy.” Now the Greek word χρηστὸς (chrestos) is better translated “well fitting,” “suitable,” or even “useful.” In effect, the Lord is saying that the yoke He has for us is suited to us, is well fitting, and has been carefully chosen so as to be useful for us. God knows we need some crosses in order to grow. He knows what those crosses are, what we can bear, and what we are ready for. Yes, His yoke for us is well fitting.
But note again that little word, “my.” The cross or yoke Jesus has for us is well suited and useful for us. The problem comes when we start adding to that weight with things of our own doing. We put wood upon our own shoulders that God never put there and never intended for us. We make decisions without asking God. We undertake projects, launch careers, accept promotions, even enter marriages without ever discerning if God wants this for us. And sure enough, before long our life is complicated and burdensome and we feel pulled in eight directions. But this is not the “my yoke” of Jesus; this is largely the yoke of our own making. Of course it is not easy or well fitting; Jesus didn’t make it.
Don’t blame God; simplify. Be very careful before accepting commitments and making big decisions. Ask God. It may be good, but not for you. It may help others, but destroy you. Seek the Lord’s will. If necessary, seek advice from a spiritually mature person. Consider your state in life; consider the tradeoffs. Balance the call to be generous with the call to proper stewardship of your time, talent, and treasure. Have proper priorities. It is amazing how many people put their career before their vocation. They take promotions, accept special assignments, and think more of money and advancement than their spouse and children. Sure enough, the burdens increase and the load gets heavy when we don’t ask God or even consider how a proposed course of action might affect the most precious and important things in our lives.
Stop “yoking around.” Jesus’ final advice, then, is “Take MY yoke … only my yoke. Forsake all others. Simplify.” So stop yoking around. Take only His yoke. If you do, your burdens will be lighter. Jesus says, “Come and learn from me. I will not put heavy burdens on you. I will set your heart on fire with love. And then, whatever I do have for you, will be a pleasure for you to do. Because, what makes the difference is love.” Love lightens every load.Image Credits: Above right From Goodsalt.com Used with Permission. Picture of Yoke from Seneca Creek Joinery
This video says we do need a yoke; God is preparing us to cross over to glory.
This song says, “When troubles rise, I’ll hasten to his throne.”