Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light. Matthew 11:29-30 NLT
I’ll be reading this and trying to offer some comments in Dinka this coming Sunday. Deacon John came over to our house last night to help me with some pronunciation and understanding. As my wife said, “That was two hours? It went by like a few minutes.” It was a blessed evening of Christian friendship. Even our surly cat, who avoids company at all costs, made an appearance for Deacon John.
Let me interject that my interpretive bias toward Jesus’ words at the end of Matthew 11 is probably a combination of American farm imagery and liturgical church symbols. The former associates the yoke with farming, as a contraption to guide dumb animals pulling your plow. The latter involves the clergy collar and the stole, which represent the yoke of Christ as he guides, well, dumb two-legged animals to do his work.
So my preaching tends to be around the idea of being driven by Christ, which of course presents problems a) because only the clergy wear the symbols and Jesus is speaking to all who follow (not “are driven by”) him and b) because the text emphasizes the weight of the load, not the direction it’s going.
As my wife and I asked John about the Dinka word for yoke, he made clear that it is not something to which an animal is harnessed. The Dinka culture prided itself on caring for thriving cattle herds, and to harness them for plowing or other work would be seen as “abusing the animal.” The yoke is something people wear to help carry heavy loads.
The Africa Study Bible comments on the verse include,
It is common in rural Africa to see a mother, carrying her child on her back while walking a long distance and carrying firewood or a bucket of water for the family on her head. Yokes are not only for animals, but the poor or slaves might used yokes to pull loads on their neck and shoulders.
The Apostle Peter used this same imagery when arguing for the church to accept her new gentile converts, contrasting the heaviness of Old Testament Law with the lighter burden of the New Covenant in Christ,
Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will. Acts 15:10-11 ESV
So as pious as it sounds to be driven here and there by Jesus, he’s actually calling us (telling us – the Dinka follows the Greek, in which Jesus says “take” as an imperative) to drop a lot of old crud that we lug around in efforts to be holy (or some virtue signaling secular facsimile), and to take up faith in Him.
He’s telling us to carry the lighter load of faith, the assurance of things not seen. We carry out – I have a new take on that phrase, for sure – what we learn from him, following him rather than being driven,
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:24 NLT
Rather than being driven to a destination while chewing our cud (or whatever yoked farm animals do), we discover the direction by walking on by faith in Jesus, learning from the one who’s lightened the burden and imitating his humble, gentle way as we go. The load will be easy, but the travel will be tricky,
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Matthew 7:12-14 ESV
OK, back to trying to pronounce some Scripture in Dinka. Pray for me.
Oh, and since this is the internet, here’s that cat I mentioned,