Saturday, January 6, 2018

The "yoke" of obedience

Come to me and I will give you rest—all of you who work so hard beneath a heavy yoke. Wear my yoke—for it fits perfectly—and let me teach you; for I am gentle and humble, and you shall find rest for your souls; for I give you only light burdens.” 
Most of us would think of a yoke as some form of device that put an animal into a place of subjection - pulling the cart or plow behind. It was indeed used to "secure" the animal to the cart or plow, but it served a very special purpose. It was used to guide and connect. Guide the oxen as they plowed and secure them to the cart or plow, and often each other so they could plow or pull in unison. That makes the yoke very important because it actually helped ensure the oxen were all going in the same direction and that they were purposeful in their movement.
It is a good thing to be ensured your movement is purposeful, isn't it? We don't just want to wander through life! It is quite another thing to find our purposeful movement to be made easier because we were actually "pulling together" rather than trying to do it all on our own. Christ's offer here is for us to learn the art of "pulling together" rather than thinking we have to bear the burden alone. In times long ago, the yoke came to be equated with slavery or "forced" submission. When it was applied to the ox, he knew he was in for a long hard haul and must do it regardless of how he felt that day.
Christ's offered yoke is not one of "forced" submission, but one of voluntary submission - leaning into the strength given when two pull together rather than having to pull all alone. There are times when I think we see Christ's offer as "putting us in the yoke" and then commanding us to pull - like the farmer behind the plow. We forget that Christ wants to pull along with us, not walk behind us. His place isn't behind the plow, it is right there helping us pull the plow. Yet, there is more. To obey really means to listen - at least that is the root of the word in Latin. To allow the yoke of Christ then is to put us into a position of listening - to really hear and then to move in unison with him.
Rather than resisting the yoke, we need to lean into it - for it brings us to a place of "union" in the work ahead of us. We aren't forced to work out this walk of obedience all alone. He is right there, reminding us each step of the way how it is done. He is there pulling with us - not against us. He also is there to bear some of the burden we feel as we attempt to plow that ground of obedience the first time. The first time the plow passes, it is hard and it takes a whole lot of energy. The next and subsequent time that plow passes through that same ground, it becomes easier and easier, until we hardly notice we are plowing at all! 
We might think the yoke will make life harder for us, but in actuality it makes it easier. Just sayin!