Taking the Yoke

The Path of the Disciple: Learning to Grow

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

On the path of a disciple, we are learning to grow in our relationships with Christ and with the community. It begins when we take the yoke.

Rest. That’s what sounds wonderful right now. Not just sleep, though that would be good too. With all that we’ve been through lately, with all the aches and pains of living in this complicated world, with the worries and struggles that make it hard to relax completely, sleep would be a good thing.

But I have never thought that Jesus was inviting us to come and take a nap on His couch. As great as that would be, I don’t think that is the offer. “Come unto me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). There’s more to it than pulling a comforter over your head and dozing off. Especially since the next line is “Take my yoke” (11:29).

Wait a minute. That’s rest? Being yoked to something or someone? That sounds like work. It sounds like labor. Well, it is. Jesus wasn’t offering us time off for good behavior. This isn’t like earning enough vacation time by working really hard and then getting a few extra days because we’ve earned them. When it comes to Jesus, you’d better lay off the earning language. Or you might be on the wrong end of that scale.

The offer has to be for something other than a good night’s sleep. It must have something to do with working alongside of or being guided by Jesus. But working. Moving. Being. All that stuff, all those action words. It is, yet again, not about checking out, but about diving in. It’s about going deeper. About living. Jesus invites us to restful living. Restful working.

Sabbath was never about being lazy. It was always about being centered on God and on the life that God intends for us. It was about obedience. It was about working in the fields of the Lord. What does that mean, exactly? Well, I don’t know for sure. But I think John Greenleaf Whittier caught a glimpse of it in the part of a poem that we sing called “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind.” He talked of the Sabbath rest in one verse. But it is the fifth verse that speaks most clearly of what that Sabbath rest might be:

Drop thy still dews of quietness / Till all our strivings cease; / Take from our souls the strain and stress, / And let our ordered lives confess / The beauty of Thy peace.

That’s what I really want, the end of strain and stress, the striving after that which never satisfies - never dancing when it is time to dance or mourning when it is time to mourn. Being out of step with where Christ wants us to be. What I want is an easy yoke. Not one that isn’t hard work, but one that fits me and fits the time. One that is right for me. Then I can rest easy, trusting I am where God wants me to be.

How do we understand the phrase “right for me,” however? The yoke that is fit for me in Matthew, on the one hand. But what about in the twenty-fourth chapter of Genesis? What does that convoluted and somewhat culturally obscure courtship story between Isaac and Rebekah have to do with Jesus’ call to take his yoke?

There might be many approaches we could take to twining these stories, but one direction might be for us to acknowledge that despite our cultural proclivity to turn everything into an individual enterprise, the life of faith and/or being a disciple by design involves other people. And these other people are not just objects to act upon, but subjects with whom we are to develop relationships. Making disciples is about being in relationship. We may want it to be about leaving tracts or making good arguments or convincing folks and then leaving them to find their way on their own. But that’s not how it works. It is about commitment and relationship and partnership.

Of course, not every relationship is about marriage, like the story of Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 24. But every relationship is about investing time, energy, and attention. And if Isaac’s story is any guide, it also takes multiple members of the community to establish the connections and to foster relationships. We might need to move away from the marriage metaphor into a community-building one to acknowledge that relationships are worth the time and effort it takes to invite and to cultivate and to accompany. The message to those of us in the disciple-making business is that we need to shepherd the process, as the servant in the Genesis text shepherded Rebekah into the fold of the family of Abraham.

But what about the yoke? And the use of “servant” in the text? Do we perpetuate unhealthy ideas of the life of faith – loss of power to choose, maintaining social hierarchies and structures, oppression in its many forms? There is certainly that danger, so we tread carefully. This servanthood is not forced labor, not a stealing of our will or an abduction of self in order to be yoked to a harsh taskmaster. Instead, this is a surrender of self to that which will make us whole. This is the willing act of commitment to enter into this relationship to both offer service and discover fulfillment, activation of giftedness, and a center from which we can love more because we know we are loved.

Another way to understand this invitation would be that we surrender to love in order to learn what it is to be a disciple. Taking a yoke means that we are willing to learn to grow.

In This Series...

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes