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Our scriptures reflect a tension that exists within our discipleship, vocations, and lives in general. It is a tension that is held between rest and restlessness, between rest and service.
In the previous weeks, we have explored our co-mission and its high cost, for the cost of discipleship can shatter valued relationships, cause scorn, and for a few physical death.
This morning, we have the yoke of discipleship.
A yoke is a device that joins two or more creatures, often oxen, together as partners in mission and labor. It is used to increase their cooperation in sharing the labor of pulling heavy equipment or a burdensome load. Thus, the yoke has become symbolic of constraining, burdensome labor and servitude.
Within our Matthew scripture, Jesus utilizes the yoke as a metaphor for our relationship, particularly regarding our shared mission, ministry, and baptismal vocation to proclaim Christ in word and deed, to seek justice, to act with compassion and mercy, and to love and serve all people.
Perhaps, we may understand it best within our own personal, human-human, relationships whether romantic, family, loved ones and friends, or colleagues. These relationships yoke us with one another and if not equally yoked, the burden not equally distributed and the labor equally shared, these relationships become constraining, burdensome, and eventually will cease to exist.
Jesus is stating that the yoke of Roman oppression, the governance at that time, was a heavy yoke borne on the necks of the people, particularly the most vulnerable persons who were impoverished and without citizen protections (including the Jewish people). Although the yoke of God’s kingdom is not weightless, it is lighter.
Jesus is stating that the yoke of religious leaders and merit-based righteousness was also a heavy yoke borne on the necks of faithful people. Again, although the yoke of discipleship in Christ is not weightless, it is lighter.
Thus, Jesus proclaims release from Roman oppression and merit-based righteousness, whether secular or religious.
Jesus, instead, invites us to put on his yoke of discipleship, that is to partner in his ministry and mission to bring forth the Kingdom of God on earth through proclaiming Christ in word and deed, seeking justice, acting with compassion and mercy, and loving and serving all people, but especially the impoverished and oppressed.
Jesus’ metaphor and invitation was not foreign, but rather familiar and rooted in Judaism. The yoke is a symbol of service and servitude, in accordance with the teaching that a Jewish person should be free from servitude of man in order to devote themselves to the the service of God.
Does this sound like freedom? No.
Martin Luther echoed this sentiment in his “Freedom of a Christian”, teachings that we are a freed lord subject to none AND a dutiful servant of all.
Does this sound less restraining? less burdensome? No.
But, we are called to be equally yoked with one another, the baptized of all time and place, to share in the burden, responsibility, and labor of Jesus’ ministry and mission.
We are also called to be yoke with Christ.
However, I am not naïve enough to proclaim that we are to be equally yoked with Christ, for we cannot withstand the burden that Christ bore for us in his life, death, and resurrection.
There is training yoke, which places the majority of the burden/load on the trained, established, and full grown ox. The un-trained ox is forced to follow along side bearing a smaller portion of the burden/load while learning and growing. Similar, God has, is, and will continue to call, teach, and grow us into the persons that we are intended to be. It is a process that continues until the moment of our deaths.
Although we do not have the option of yoke or no yoke, the yoke of God’s kingdom shared with the baptized and the training yoke of Christ’s discipleship is lighter for it is a yoke of truth, grace, mercy and love.
May we strive to be yoked together and with Christ in truth, grace, mercy, and love, which pulls the will and Kingdom of God rather than the weight of thisworld and our own self-centered will. Amen.