Magazine Article

The Yoke

A lighter load

Charmian Lewis-Watkins
The Yoke
Photo by Miriam G on Unsplash

Jesus the rabbi, teacher, scholar extraordinaire, used metaphors and analogies to teach important truths. His goal was to effect change, and so He used that to which His listeners could relate. Some owned vineyards, others were fishermen, and yet others livestock and subsistence farmers, just to name a few. Whatever the occupation, He tied truth to that which they understood best in order to create learning opportunities and facilitate optimal learning experiences that were memorable. This is the context in which Matthew 11:28-30 emerges.

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

Yoke for Yoke

The offer of a yoke is not received with the same enthusiasm as the idea of a luxurious and expensive gift. Instead, the word “yoke” conjures up thoughts of bondage, servitude, and burden-bearing. Who wants that? Yet all of us are carrying baggage: pain, hurt, resentment—all residual effects of the mental and physical trauma we have experienced, things that haunt us every day, things that steal our happiness. We have been taught not to take our stress out to the streets, not to look like what we are going through or have been through, so we wear masks. We smile on the outside, post pictures and emojis that make people feel we’re OK, while we’re dying on the inside. Oh, the burdens we bear, some too great to verbalize.

In the midst of it all, Jesus offers an invitation that’s all-​inclusive but doesn’t cost a dime. The offer includes an exchange, an opportunity to learn, and the gift of rest. While there are cities that boast of their insomnia (such as New York, the city that never sleeps), my Lord offers rest.

Yoke for yoke; why not His? The yoke we wear is of our own design. At best it is ill-fitting, simply because it is a device meant for two. Without another beside you, there is no balance, hence, the attempt to carry it is exhausting. The yoke by definition balances the burden, making it easy to carry. Confirmation, is it not? Doesn’t Jesus say His yoke is easy? Yes, He does. Let’s take a closer look at the yoke and the spiritual lessons it teaches by way of an analogy. 

Yoked with Jesus

A yoke of oxen refers to two oxen that are joined together by a wooden beam across their necks. They are then used to till the field and prepare the soil for planting. In Christ’s day there was no Black and Decker, no John Deere, no Craftsman, but a yoke, that bar that was placed over the neck of two animals. Together they got the job done while yoked; walking shoulder to shoulder in unison and at the same pace. Imagine being yoked to Jesus: that does make things easy, and if you know who Jesus is, you know He’ll carry more than He’ll let on.

Animals of like species working together hints at like-mindedness, being of one accord, united in purpose—all qualities that facilitate a process. When we are linked together by His yoke, a yoke that’s easy, a yoke crafted by the Master Craftsman, the burden becomes light. As the yoke keeps the animals close together, being in close proximity to Jesus allows an opportunity for transformation, for by beholding we become changed. He is the Majesty of heaven, yet He is not aloof. Instead, He is willing to come in close, shoulder to shoulder, not only to help us carry, but to teach. He says, “ Learn of Me.”

As the oxen walk together, the job is getting done, the soil is being tilled, it’s being softened, it’s becoming aerated. Roots will be able to access nutrients with ease, and plants can flourish, blossom, and yield fruit. Likewise, the soil of my heart is tilled, aerated, softened, making me receptive to His teaching. His Word takes root and anchors my soul. When I am yoked to Jesus, the possibilities are endless.

Walk Away Light

 In this state of being receptive, a packet of seeds labeled “Fruit of the Spirit” sprinkled on my softened heart, a heart that is ready, quickly germinates, and my transformation is evidenced by my character. I exude joy; I am kind and patient with people and situations that try me. I possess a peace that passes all understanding. I have goodness, His goodness, and the goodness I extend to others. His love constrains me, and now I have self-control. No longer am I the equivalent of a loose cannon. I am faithful; I am believing God for good outcomes; I am faithful with my vows, understanding that faith is essential for my salvation.

This beautiful experience all begins with obedience to the invitation to me —“all you who are weary,” and not just weary, but also “burdened” (Matt. 11:28, NIV). Those words are intentional. They speak to the magnitude of our situations. Be ever aware that the omnipotent, omnipresent, all-seeing omniscient God wants to partner with us. His promise in Deuteronomy 31:8 says that “He will not leave you nor forsake you.”

He is Immanuel, God with us. I am His temple. I am where He resides if I let Him. He has not left us. He is the burden sharer, the burden lifter. Sometimes the burden persists because He allows the situation to continue so that we might learn a valuable lesson, and sometimes the burden persists because of us. We do not want to relinquish control—our arrogance and pride hold us hostage. Today the prayer is simple: Lord, I accept Your invitation to come. I must admit that I have been carrying this burden for what seems like an eternity, and it has been exhausting. Lord, today I surrender not just the burden but my ill-fitting yoke. I choose You, and I choose to walk away light. I surrender my heart and my will to You, O mighty Jesus. Give me a heart to know You, a heart that is willing to learn. Lord, today I exchange my yoke for Yours; may I walk away light.

Charmian Lewis-Watkins

Charmian Lewis-Watkins is a registered nurse living in Brooklyn, New York.