My Grandpa was a farmer. The manual labor involved in preparing for the end product of a harvest is a monumental task. When I was little, I went to stay with my grandparents for a few weeks in the summer. One of the things I remember about that time was Grandma going out to the field and telling Grandpa how homesick I was and it was time to take me home. That meant leaving the field with all the work that needed to be done and driving me from Minnesota to Vermont in order to take me home. For a farmer, that was a huge sacrifice. That is a very vivid memory for me that I have always cherished.
In the Bible, many different illustrations are used to assist us in understanding the principles that God wants us to live out in our daily lives. One such illustration is the visual of a yoke.
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 gently 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 yoke here does not refer to a yoke used for oxen (as I had originally thought) rather it refers to a person coming under another person’s leadership and following in their footsteps. Jesus was speaking here and telling those that would listen and those of us that read these words to “come.” Jesus will not hog tie us and make us follow Him, rather we must come on our own accord. The reason we are to come to Him is because the yoke we are carrying is heavy and causes us much labor. The reference here is to the religious leaders who were making the people of the day carry the heavy burden of the law. Following laws out of fear is a heavy burden. These religious leaders seemed perfect on the outside, but on the inside their hearts were dark with the deceitfulness of sin.
When we take on the yoke of Jesus we can learn from Him. What do we learn from Him? We learn “gentleness and humility.” Living a life filled with gentleness and humility is a much easier and the yoke is much lighter to carry.
During the time that Jesus walked the earth, the religious leaders had added extra rules to the laws that were already given to make sure that the previously recorded rules were not inadvertently disobeyed. To illustrate how extreme it had gotten the religious leaders had 39 sub categories under “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.” Thirty-nine sub categories that helped define what work was and what work was not. They were deceived into thinking that external perfection equaled holiness.
Jesus’ teaching was different. He taught that it was not the externals that made the person holy rather it was what came from the heart. What was in Jesus’ heart? “Gentleness and lowliness.”
My grandpa was hard working. My aunt calls it the legacy of the Lichtys. Yet, when the rubber met the road, my grandpa was gentle and lowly. As I started writing this, I was thinking about farming and these verses thinking that a yoke was a piece of farm equipment. I remembered this story about my grandpa and wrote it down. Then I went to study the meaning and history behind the yoke. I never realized that the yoke here was not intended for oxen but rather a metaphor for discipleship. A metaphor for following in the footsteps of a leader. So Grandpa Lichty what you have taught me is to work hard, but do it with gentleness and humility remembering that what is important in the end is not the work, but the people. This yoke is “easy, and this burden is light.”