For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28 – 30
The tragedies of our day, the deconstruction of truth in common life, historical and divisive issues and concerns such as racism, sexism, economic inequality, etc., and an outrageous persistent ignorance more and more codified into law and exacerbated by vitriolic political rhetoric, various media, and a politics immoral more and more frustrating for many, should make us thankful for the life, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is his sacred and holy unwavering courageous stance in opposition to unjust and burdensome religious and governmental laws, which left God’s people bound and longing for hope, that offers the Christian a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light. His profound and unlawful acts of love present us with the sustenance and the remedy to a national tragedy. Christ broke the law all the time. Christ forgave and harbored criminals and refugees. Christ's challenge to the temple was illegal and got him crucified. He sets the trend for challenging man-made authorities, i.e. sin, evil and unjust laws, and giving allegiance to God instead.
In Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon, “The Death of Evil upon the Seashore” he writes, Is anything more obvious than the presence of evil in the universe? Its nagging, prehensile tentacles project into every level of human existence. We may debate the origin of evil, but only a victim of superficial optimism would debate its reality. Evil is stark, grim, and colossally real.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s words are a reminder that the faith we profess is not for window dressing, or for an exhibition of entitlement, privilege or supremacy but for an encounter of sin, evil and injustice legislated through laws and policies, that do not and will not compromise in their mission to rape, pillage and if possible to destroy our very souls. The faith we profess and seek to live is not an investment in the deception, lies and falsehoods of some who profess Christianity, but in those things, which affirm a costly grace, as expressed by Pastor, Martyr, Prophet and Spy Dietrich Bonhoeffer amidst the final solution, i.e. the murder of 6 million Jews, codified into law in Nazi, Germany, and experienced at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ our beloved savior. It is an appreciation of this costly grace at the depths of our soul which compels a discipleship which keeps us from a profound and dangerous deception which cast many into the abyss of fragility, discouragement and despair.
Galatians 6:7 encourages the Christian not to be deceived; that God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man or [woman] soweth, that shall they also reap. In this sense the deception espoused by the tragic as seen in the current political regimes governmental laws and policies regarding immigration, racism and an incivility unleashed, is only overcome by a discipleship rooted in our encounter of a costly grace in our soul and a profound and uncompromising believe that God’s unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word and that right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant" as said by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In other words, the religious, political, and cultural polarization experienced by many today can only be overcome by a deep and uncompromising believe in the costly grace of Jesus Christ and no other, that regardless of how things look, God has the final word. As it says in Deuteronomy 32 verse 35 Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; Their foot shall slip in due time; For the day of their calamity is at hand, And the things to come hasten upon them.
An appreciation of costly grace calls us each moment of each day to reclaim once again the gospel of Jesus Christ so as not to be deceived by a religion and its politics parading as a form of a gospel reminiscent of the Jim Crow South and so called Christians who would practice racism while going to the lynching tree after receiving communion. In his review of The Cross and the Lynching Tree, by James Cone, Stephen G. Ray Jr. January 30, 2012 writes, “More often than not, the public renderings of black bodies were carried out by "good Christian folk"—people who had become convinced that their dedication to the regime of white supremacy that demanded these executions was part and parcel of their Christian identity. It is no coincidence that most of the lynchings from the late 19th to mid-20th century occurred in the Bible Belt. Churchgoing lynchers were often murdering other churchgoing Christians who were of the same communion: Baptists killed Baptists and so on.”
Mindful of Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, in his book, “The Creative Encounter” the history of Christianity is a struggle between good and evil. This is not unique to Christianity as it is a tension acknowledged by all the great religions. In this light each of us must delve deep within ourselves as children of God to encounter that authentic religious experience. We do an injustice to ourselves, if, unlike Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, we don’t consider who we are, as a product of a system, and the implications of what our faith must encounter, engage, and eventually overcome. The faith we live and profess, like our love for all of God’s creation, is not for the faint of heart as it is meant to take on systems and processes, whether external or internal, which codify unjust bias, discrimination and a racial and economic animus into law and governmental policy such as the current immigration policy which separates children from their families, discriminates against the Muslim community, while also putting the healthcare of millions at risk. Of course, some might consider a position detrimental to so many people, simply a different worldview, covering up the dastardly and shameful conditions advocated by this peculiar ideology. Yet who can deny that children separated from their families and incarcerated in an old Walmart building is not unjust, for some, conjuring mental images of African American enslavement.
The sacred and holy stand against sin, evil and injustice are an ongoing continuing struggle which must be fought generation to generation. Any resting on our laurels becomes an opening for the weeds of delusion, deception and deconstruction, and dehumanization legislated as law, to rise and choke whatever righteousness and an inclusive life-giving hope being nurtured. In this I think the words attributed to Jesus, “It is finished” in the gospel of John 19:30 can be deceptive, used by the forces of injustice to inflict a cruel dispensation, the cheap grace of injustice, upon the innocent making it clear that sin and evil persist. More so, the words “It is finished” is a trumpet call amidst the injustice of our day that Jesus Christ has been the example, he’s given those who choose to be his disciples the tools to stand against the sin, evil and injustice of this world and he’s given his disciples the Holy Spirit so that they might critically and forcefully engage those things which deny a necessary hope. Amidst the “It is Finished” Jesus had an intimate knowledge of the burden which confronted and confronts his disciples.
Today’s text, Matthew 11:28-30 emerges out Jesus’ dealings with Pharisees who seek God’s righteousness through unswerving obedience to Jewish law. Similar to today they sought to legislate righteousness and morality, creating a huge and unbearable burden for God’s humanity. The scripture is Jesus’s engagement of the sad affair and a reminder that the law, whether religious or secular, for as much comfort as the law can seemingly provide secular or religious authoritarians or zealots, is a burden which denies the very righteousness, mercy and grace of God and a morality they seeks to take hold of.
The saying “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” is part of a larger passage (Matthew 11:28–30), in which Jesus tells all who are weary and burdened to come to Him for rest. He isn’t speaking here of physical burdens only. Rather, it was the heavy burden of the system of works that the Pharisees like some today, laid on the backs of the people that Jesus was offering to relieve. Later, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus will rebuke the Pharisees for laying heavy burdens on the shoulders of the people (Matthew 23:4).
The “yoke of the Pharisees” is the burdensome yoke of self-righteousness and legalistic law-keeping. It has been said by biblical scholars that the Pharisees had added over 600 regulations regarding what qualified as “working” on the Sabbath. That is a heavy burden! Recall the story of the lawyer who asked Jesus what the greatest commandment of the Law was (Matthew 22:36). You can almost read between the lines of the man’s question: “What law, of all the laws we have, do I absolutely have to keep?”
In the life of the Christian, strength and the will to persist become the evidence of their discipleship in Christ which sustains and overcomes the difficulties and challenges of unjust and unnecessary laws which perpetrate the sin, evil and injustice of humanity. Sin, evil and injustice are often the only words which adequately describe programs and policies which reveal evermore the destruction not only of innocent families longing for a better life but of the demise a nation which each day becomes more and more burdensome, fragile and polarized in its common life. It is during times like these when the faith of the Christian, their relationship with Christ, becomes paramount in the apprehension of a hope which overcomes burdens which compel a sadness, depression and hopelessness. Considering such matters, today the Christian must lay their burdens at the feet of Jesus Christ knowing that obedience to these words are the clearest way and means to overcome and address the sins and evils of humanity which persist.
In the final analysis, where the laws of humanity fail, making weariness and burden the norms of our day, it is the law of love, which makes the yoke easy and the burden light. It is the Christian’s obedience to Christ and his teachings rooted in love as exhibited by Jesus, which must overcome those burdens, those frustrations encountered in unjust laws. There may be times in the life of the Christian when they will have a choice between obedience to God’s law or obedience to man’s law. This has been a very real reality for those dealing with immigration and those who addressed issues regarding environmental concerns at Standing Rock in the face of big oil. We may be fortunate now not to have to make that choice, yet this choice eventually comes to all who profess their obedience to Jesus Christ.
This day let those of us who profess discipleship to Christ practice the law of love and in so doing gradually begin to change our lives, our homes, our communities, our nation, our world and its politics and in so doing make space for the Kingdom of heaven.