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(Part 81)


December 11, 2019
Today’s gospel: Matthew 11:28-30

We are now nearing the end of the year, and you have worked for the cause of Christ throughout this year. It is time to rest, but in doing so, to gather strength for the new year that is to come.
God has entrusted us with His work, and it is indeed very difficult and challenging work, pitting us against the devil himself. But if we place ourselves at the service of God, if we allow ourselves to be used by Him, then He fills us with grace and empowers us with His Spirit. It is His work after all. And so Jesus assures us, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

What does it mean?

Oxen are placed under the yoke in order to use them to plow fields or grind grain. It is hard work, under the scorching sun, at times under the whip. Thus they are called beasts of burden. Such was also the lot of slaves, who worked the fields almost without rest, with little food, subject to the merciless elements. Now we are servants of Jesus, nay, we are slaves of Jesus. As Jesus has freed us from sin, we belong to him. The reality is “that you have been freed from sin and have become slaves of God” (Rom 6:22a). Paul, in addressing human slaves, told the Ephesians that they were “slaves of Christ” (Eph 6:6b). Peter, addressing the people as citizens, said they were “slaves of God.” (1 Pt 2:16b).

Now serving God can really result in great hardships. Such was the experience of Paul, who spoke of “far greater labors, far more imprisonments, far worse beatings, and numerous brushes with death.” (2 Cor 11:23b). The more we allow God to use us, the more will be the challenges. We give more of our time, talent and resources. We go out of our way, even to far-off lands. We take risks and endure hardships and even persecution.

But in Christ, with burden will come rest. Jesus sends us out, but Jesus also brings us in, to comfort us and nurse our wounds. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mt 11:28). In fact, we should get to welcome and joyfully embrace the burdens, because this is what will bring us to rest in Christ. If burdens, trials, oppression and suffering are the price, these are all worth it, just to enter into Christ’s rest.

There is more. Jesus invites us to be yoked with him. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves.” (Mt 11:29). The yoke oftentimes was for a pair of oxen. In our case, when we serve God, we are yoked with Jesus himself. He is right beside us, shoulder to shoulder, pulling the weight and carrying the load. And we know that we are weak and our Lord is strong. It will actually be his strength that helps us do the task. He makes our burden light. Imagine having Jesus to yourself as you do his work, that is, if you allow yourself to be yoked with him.
During our time with Jesus, as we carry his yoke, we learn from him. We learn that he is meek and humble of heart. Meekness is strength under control. It is not weakness. It is not being dictated upon. Rather, it is persistence in doing God’s will, oftentimes in trying circumstances. This entails humility. The one who is doing divine work is the one who is undergoing hardships. The one who can call on a legion of angels is the one who meekly submits to indignity and pain. The one who has all the power in the world is the one who submits himself to the power of that world. Humility is about perfect obedience to God’s will.

Humility is also about perfect submission to Jesus, and knowing that on our own, we are nothing. At times Christians find the yokes they are carrying as beyond bearable. This may be because they are going off on their own steam, and not allowing Jesus to carry the greater weight. Or perhaps they are not in sync with the pace of Jesus, either trying to get ahead of him or dragging their feet and holding him back. They need to keep in step and always follow Jesus’ lead.

Jesus was the one who carried our yoke and burden. This is the burden of sin. Jesus carried the physical cross to Calvary, but the greater weight on his shoulders and upon his soul was the weight of the sins of the world. Jesus gave his whole strength, which at times failed him, as he fell three times to the ground. But he persisted and accomplished the Father’s purpose.

So now it is our turn to carry the yoke. It is a much lighter yoke than what Jesus carried. And we are helped by Jesus himself. So even as we feel we are at the end of our strength, even as we have fallen to the ground a number of times, we must know that we are going to ultimately enjoy God’s rest.

* * *

[Note: This article is taken from my new book, “The Inscrutable Wisdom of God.” It comes out soon.]

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