Saturday, August 22, 2015

Light and Easy

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” - Mt. 11: 28-30, Message (emphasis mine)

I've been doing a lot of thinking and meditating lately about the kind of Life Jesus intended to give us, a life of freedom, one delivered from the burdens of religious ritual and meaningless mantras, one of passion and purpose and peace. 

He used the picture of the yoke in the above passage (I just used the paraphrase for clarity's sake, and because I love the phrase "the unforced rhythms of grace." What a picture of freedom - but that is another post for another time!)  

The yoke is a time-honored traditional way to harness the strength of two powerful beasts (be they horses or oxen) to accomplish a given task. The yoke is essentially a cross-piece that is laid across the necks of two animals. The farmer would attach the middle of the yoke to a pole through a ring or a rope, and attach the other end of the pole to a plow or some other farming tool. He would either walk behind the plow or put his weight on it to drive it into the ground and make the plow dig deeper into the earth. All the animals had to do was walk together.

Drawing "Farmer And Horses Plowing Field Oval Etching"
courtesy of vectorolie at
I've seen this happen. When I was growing up, my uncle had two draft horses that he put together in a contraption very much like a yoke ... and he would come and "horse-hoe" our potatoes. This was a necessary task, because it loosened the dirt around the potatoes and allowed them more room to grow, and it also covered the maturing potatoes with more soil so that they didn't get sunburned. In addition, it was a hundred times faster than hoeing the rows by hand.

I used to love to watch the two mares do their work because well, I happen to love horses ... and this was as good an excuse as any to get out of the house and away from the detested task of washing the dishes (that's hilarious to my husband by the way... but I digress.)  It amazed me to see how they seemed to communicate with each other as they went about their work; they knew what had to be done and I could see them looking at one another, happy in each other's company. The work was secondary. They got to spend time together. When one would stumble, the other would slow down and steady the harness until the other one fell back into step with her.

Now, here are a few fun (if random) facts.
  • "Beasts of burden" (and people, by the way) can pull way more than they can carry.
  • Each yoke was adjusted (or even constructed) to fit the specific animals perfectly.
  • The farmer would yoke animals of the same size together because they would pull better if they were on the same level. The burden became awkward and harder to pull if the animals weren't the same size and strength.
  • The animals who worked together would hang out together in the pasture more often.
  • If there was a less experienced animal, the farmer would harness or yoke it together with an older, more experienced one (again, of the same size) so that the younger would learn techniques of pulling and of turning from the older, thus decreasing the workload and getting the job done faster.
Okay, here's the thing. When Jesus talked about being "heavy laden" (as the KJV puts it) He was talking about a totally different contraption - something like a pack that a mule would carry on its back, held on with a girth much like a saddle has. People would load up the pack on the animal's back with burdens that were too heavy for humans to carry ... and sometimes the load became way too much for even the animal to carry. The SAME LOAD if pulled by two animals was NOTHING compared to one trying to carry it in its own strength. Consistently heavy-laden animals didn't last as long as teamed animals who pulled. The knees and backs of heavy-laden animals would give out and they would eventually have to be destroyed. 

The "weary and heavy-laden" that Jesus was talking about, then, were people who were burning out, trying to fulfill all the teensy tiny laws, all the "shoulds" and "oughtas" that were placed on them by the religious leaders. Do this, don't do that, don't touch that, don't eat that - and - oh my goodness don't go there and eat with that person! ... etc. 

Enter the Light and Easy yoke. Jesus came so that all those heavy burdens could be put behind us. He came to walk in fellowship with us and to make Himself just our size. He came to show us how it's done. (How what is done?  really LIVING, of course!) And not only that, He came to do that with us, not to be the one standing on the plow, so to speak, but the one in harness with us. We never have to go it alone; HE is there. 

Right beside us. Just our size. Helping, encouraging, waiting for us to get our footing.

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