Matthew 11:28-30 Jerusalem Bible
In my bible, this passage has the bold-faced heading The gentle mastery of Christ, and there’s nothing else under that heading. It’s an isolated logion (saying) of Jesus Christ. Apparently it’s a saying that we just don’t know what to do with. Some of us think Jesus is telling us, ‘There, there! I know how hard your life can be. Just come to Me, and I’ll make it all better,’ and so we seek solace and comfort in ‘religion.’ Where else can we find Jesus, and with Jesus find ‘rest’ or peace? Church services, prayer meetings, spiritual retreats, maybe even taking that dusty old bible off the shelf and reading a daily dose when we’re feeling like it, maybe even praying. Where else can we find Jesus to come to Him? Where else rest?
If we read the whole passage, all three sentences, we treat the last two as an after-thought, something that Jesus just tacked on. If we read with attention and try to understand, many of us are baffled. What is this ‘yoke’ that He’s talking about? What does He mean by saying ‘learn from Me’? Learn what? Yes, we know Jesus is ‘gentle and humble in heart.’ How do we know this? We’ve heard it over and over again in sermons and, if we’re Protestants, we’ve sung it in hymns, ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.’ When we visualize Jesus this way, we forget how He treats some of the Pharisees and others who ‘come to Him.’ Or perhaps, we do remember, and try our hardest not to be like one of them. We ‘try’ to be good.
And that last sentence capping it off, talking about His ‘yoke’ again, whatever it is, He says it’s ‘easy’ and so must it be, and as for His burden, it’s light, it’s not heavy. Yes, light and easy, that’s how it is— for Jesus. Even while we read the words or hear them quoted or preached at us, even while we give our assent, say our ‘amen’ to the Word of God, inside there’s a double standard going on, a secret state of double-think. Life is light and easy for Jesus, but not for us. He knows that. He knows all about us. That’s why He tells us, ‘Come to Me.’ He wants to protect us, shield us, comfort and save us. There’s nothing else for us to do, no other ‘working for God,’ just as He says, ‘You must believe in the One He has sent’ (John 6:29).
This is just one example of how the words of Jesus are ripped out of His mouth and selectively shredded before we stuff them into our ears. We don’t let ourselves hear Him as He teaches us in simplicity. We dash ahead of Him to put our thoughts, our empty thoughts, into His head. We fasten onto this fragment or that, trying to save ourselves, clinging to driftwood, from drowning in the stormy sea when, if we just looked up, we’d see a whole ship dispatched to our real rescue right before us. ‘Come to Me,’ says Jesus. ‘Shoulder My yoke,’ He tells us, offering to join Himself to each of us. ‘Learn from Me,’ He commends, revealing what He means to do with us, if we let Him. Gently, humbly, is how He treats us.
But do we let Him treat us at all? We affirm His saying, ‘My yoke is easy and My burden light,’ but we do not say ‘Yes’ with Him and to Him. We do not accept His offer, because we have already accepted our own. We ‘try’ to come to Him by our own will, under our own power, to force ourselves into the safe haven of ‘rest’ to relieve ourselves of our labour and of being over-burdened. Life is hard, but our survivalism, which we call ‘faith,’ will pull us through, because we’ve done all that we’ve been told to do, to ‘come to Jesus’ and to ‘believe.’ It never occurs to us that our lives are still hard, very, very hard, or why they are still hard, why we need the consolations of religion. After all, we’re following the instructions.
No, not true. Something is amiss. We’re following instructions, maybe, but not His. If we’re not in a state of real ‘rest’ and peace, either we’re not coming to Jesus, or perhaps we don’t know what He means by ‘rest.’ We will never know this ‘rest,’ we’ll never know what it is and what it feels like to recognize it, until we know what it means to come to Jesus. He tells us, ‘Come,’ and He tells us what coming to Him means: ‘Shoulder My yoke.’ See what it is that Jesus is doing in the Holy Gospels, and do what you see Him doing. That’s what it means to be joined to Him, in His yoke, and pull the Gospel plough. ‘Learn from Me.’ Hear His divine teachings, say what you hear Him saying. Be as He is, gentle, humble, and ‘find rest.’
‘As Your Word unfolds, it gives Light, and the simple understand’ (Psalm 119:130 JB). When Jesus says, ‘Yes, My yoke is easy and My burden light,’ He is closing His saying by bringing us back to its beginning. He is assuring us—and we can believe Him, if only we will take Him at His word—that coming to Him, following Him, we will see what He does and hear what He says, and doing and speaking the same, we are remade in His image and likeness, we become ‘gentle and humble in heart’ and in spirit and in truth find rest for our souls. ‘Peace I bequeath to you, My own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is My gift to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid’ (John 14:27). ‘Shoulder My yoke and learn from Me.’