When we hear these words of comfort from Jesus, we must hear them in their context. Jesus has just concluded a long missionary discourse. He has instructed his disciples in the ways of conducting business. Go and preach my word, he tells them, and do not expect that it will be easy or without burden and danger. My goal is not as much about peace as it is about splitting the world in two so that the Word of God can get right into the center of life.
The disciples are presumably out in the world, doing their best to live with Jesus’ call to ministry when we enter into the lesson today. Jesus is facing a crowd of people, some of whom believe that the imprisoned John the Baptizer is the true Messiah of God. Although the crowd never asks a question, Jesus’ answer to them implies that their question is one that we have been asking of the divine from the beginning of creation—if you are not here to make us happy, to make us comfortable and peaceful, then how are you relevant in our lives?
Jesus’ answer is that he is here to expose the world to the Word of God. The way that we know that Word is to stop trying to haul all of our lives around by ourselves and go stand next to him. There are two kinds of equipment called yokes—a single yoke and a partner yoke. Being a city girl through and through, I would never have known this had I not been educated by my hosts when I lived in a developing country. A single yoke is extremely effective, and a person can haul great loads from some distance with it. However, the single yoke is painful. It takes a great deal of strength and stamina, and even the most skilled person tires easily under the weight. A double, or partner yoke, operates under a different rule of physics. It is a bit more complicated to work, because it requires a level of cooperation. However, because the burden is shared, one person or being can rest while the other pulls the weight for a time. The burden, the work, the weight is still present in both. The double yoke is just easier.
That is what Jesus is offering us today. The promise is not so much about easier as it is about presence. Jesus is offering us all of himself, all that God has to give. When we are willing to step up beside him and become part of a shared yoke, we experience the kind of rest that God experienced with creation on the seventh day. It is a wholeness, a complete connectedness, with the divine Creator. Jesus’ invitation to yoke with him still implies that there is work to be done. The promise is that the yoke will fit, because we have been crafted for it. [Katrina L. Holland, "The Healing Word," Homily Service 38.8 (July 2005): 7-8.]
Katrina L. Holland is pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Jefferson, MD.