Summary: Christ doesn’t free us from the service of God, but he makes a yoke for us that fits so well the task seem easy. It’s not that Jesus demands any less of us, but that he graciously helps his followers. We don’t have to carry our burden alone.
I spent this past week up at Camp Lookout as one of the Ministers in Residence. There were just about 100 campers camping this week, and around 40 paid staff and volunteers working around the clock to make sure everyone had tons of fun. Numbers-wise, it was the biggest week of the year. It was also the fourth straight week of camp, and the last week before a weeklong break for the counselors. The majority of the campers there were 5th and 6th grade, and I don’t think I have to tell you that they were a raucous bunch! Full of life and energy, among the 90 or so of them, they never ceased to make us laugh…or to annoy us. We spent the week doing all sorts of things with the 5th and 6th grade campers, not to mention the twelve high school-age kayakers and the five young day campers. We swam, skateboarded, mountain biked, made crafts, and led the group in devotions and worship every day. It was tiring! Ken, Mary Ellen, and I were sleeping before our heads hit the pillow just about every night, and we’re still catching up this weekend! Thank goodness tomorrow is a holiday!
As we went through the week, I thought often of the fact that as tiring as the experience was for the three of us, the counselors must be experiencing that four-fold or more. In their fourth week of camp and anticipating a well-deserved vacation, I sensed that this week of camp was very difficult for the counselors. As always, they did their jobs with enthusiasm and precision, but you could also see their general weariness and occasional frustration with the kids. The excitement with which I saw the counselors jumping around and dancing just a few weeks ago had sort of worn off. By the time Friday rolled around, they were ready to be done! If we were tired, they must’ve been exhausted!
There is a difference, you know, between being tired and being exhausted. We get tired when we don’t get enough sleep, or when we are particularly active, or maybe when we don’t get enough vitamins. Exhaustion occurs when those things happen over and over and over again, back-to-back-to-back. We also get exhausted when we are stressed, or burned-out. It all makes us feel so weary. Exhaustion happens when we are continually carrying a burden – whether physically or mentally.
I don’t think I have to tell you that Jesus knows something about carrying heavy burdens. We heard his words in our gospel reading just a few moments ago. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” When Jesus bid the weary and burdened to come to him, he was addressing all who were weighed down by oppressive religious rules and regulations. They were weary of trying to find acceptance by God and some had even given up trying. When he claimed that his yoke is easy and his burden light, Jesus meant that he could release them from the man-made additions to God’s law, not the righteous demands of the law itself.
You see; Jesus was speaking to people who were burdened by the excessive demands of those who claimed to interpret God’s law. The rabbis spoke regularly of the yoke of the law, which for many was a burden they could not carry. But in this invitation, Jesus offers another kind of yoke: not one that is easy in the usual sense, but a yoke that does not chafe because Christ offers his love and grace and mercy to help carry the burden. It is not that Christ is less demanding than the rabbis, but that he graciously helps his followers carry the load and get the job done.
I think it’s important for us to really pay attention to what Jesus was saying to the crowds when he spoke to them about the “easy yoke.” I believe it’s easy for us to interpret this passage as an offer from Jesus to take care of all our problems. Can’t carry that load? Don’t worry, just set it down where you are and Jesus will take care of it. Is work getting to be too much? Don’t get stressed about it, Jesus will make sure your work gets done. To overstate it just a bit, it’s easy to interpret this invitation from Jesus as an opportunity to be lazy because Jesus will take care of all the burdens in our lives. But that’s not what Jesus’ invitation is about at all; in fact, it’s quite the opposite!
As we hear this invitation from Jesus, we also have to remember all his teachings about discipleship as well. “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” “Go, sell everything you have, and give the money to the poor.” “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” That’s certainly not an opportunity to be lazy, and it’s definitely not easy!