Friday, May 24, 2013

How Could Jesus Say, "My Burden is Light"?

"Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  (Matthew 11:28-30)

I have read those words many times over the past 25 years, but they really caught my attention the other night.  "What do you mean Lord?  How could Your yoke be easy and your burden light?  You had the weight of the entire world on your shoulders ... What is Your 'yoke'?  Is it Your Cross, the Cross that we are supposed to take up and follow after You?"

And then I started to think about what was most important to Jesus.  His total focus, in everything He did, was pleasing His Father.  Yes, ultimately that meant accepting the Cross onto His shoulders; but doing the will of the Father was the yoke He bore every day of His life.  And He didn't consider it a burden.  (Rather, He spoke of it as being energizing.)  Jesus did have great responsibility - saving the human race - but His mind wasn't pulled here and there, anxious about what had to be done.  No, in each moment, His goal was the same - doing what He knew the Father wanted Him to do.  

I would wager that in the vast, vast majority of situations we encounter each day, we know how God wants us to act - we know the commandments, have heard or read enough Scripture and Church teaching to have an intuitive understanding of right and wrong.  Much of our anxiety probably stems from knowing God's will, but trying to justify going the other way.  Jesus didn't have that.  His yoke was easy and His burden light; He wants the same for us.  "What would the Lord want me to do?  ...  Alright, here we go."


  1. Jesus' burden is light compared to the burdensome rules of the scribes and Pharisees in the synagogues who show no mercy to the poor crowds who can't fulfill their laws, as in Mt. 23:4. For example, their tithing laws burden the poor and neglect justice, mercy, and faith (23:23). In contrast to them, Jesus' yoke is different; the Greek word usually translated "easy" in Mt. 11:30 can also be translated "kindness." Elsewhere in the N.T. this word is usually translated as "kind" or "loving." One example of this is Lk. 6:35 where disciples are to show love and mercy to enemies because God is "kind" to such ones; and 6:36 adds: be merciful as your Father is merciful.

  2. I don't really see Jesus directing this particular comment at the scribes and Pharisees. It comes right after Jesus has been upbraiding the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida for failing to respond to His message, and His praise of the Father for having opened the eyes of "infants" to recognize their significance. Matthew's narrative did however turn to the matter of the Pharisees and their strict interpretation of Sabbath regulations in the next pericope.

    It is a bit off-topic from the goal of my post, but I can't help commenting on Matthew 23:3, certainly an interesting verse. Looking at it again just now, I would have to characterize it slightly differently than Jesus taking issue with "burdensome rules" that failed to show mercy to the poor. Tithing of herbs, as you know, was prescribed by the Mosaic Law (Lev 27:30; Deut 14:22-23), and during His public ministry the Lord never instructed anyone to break the Law. Rather, He did exactly the opposite (Mt 5:17-20). In this very passage the Master tells the Pharisees, "these [tithing mint, dill, cummin] you OUGHT to have done, WITHOUT neglecting the others [justice, mercy, faith]" (Mt 23:23-24). What Jesus castigated the Pharisees for in this series of woes was their scrupulosity in action but neglect of the interior principles upon which the Law had been constructed. Their scrupulosity allowed them to then interpret the commands of the Law in a mechanical manner and work around its demands calling for not only outward, liturgical sacrifice, but interior sacrifice that involved pouring themselves out to others (see the preceding verses, Mt.23:16-22)

    They expended their energy trying to justify acting in a way that violated the very heart of the Law - that violated the Father's will. Jesus called them, and us, back to our senses.

  3. I was contrasting Jesus' yoke and burden with that of the scribes and Pharisees. His command to take his yoke was for his disciples, but comes after mention of those who "labor and are heavy laden" (Mt. 11:28), which relates to the "heavy burdens" of 23:3. Probably the contrast in 11:25 with the "infants" and "wise and understanding" also has to do with his disciples (whom he is addressing) versus the scribes and Pharisees, the ("wise") authorities on the law of Moses (23:2).

  4. OK - I see the connection you are drawing between the two loads. There may very will be a secondary connection there. When I commented on your original comment("their tithing laws burden the poor and neglect justice, mercy, and faith) I wanted to clarify that Jesus was not taking opposition to the Pharisees insistence on tithing. He says very clearly, "The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe WHATEVER THEY TELL YOU, but not WHAT THEY DO; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, heard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger." The Pharisees would not help their brothers and sisters fulfill the Law.

    Lets go back to Matthew 11:28 though. Allow me to quote it, and then lets compare it to Sirach 51 because I feel it gives us the primary context for interpreting Jesus' words here:

    "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

    "Draw near to me, you who are uneducated, and lodge in the house of instruction. Why do you say you are lacking in these things, and why do you endure such great thirst? I opened my mouth and said, Acquire wisdom for yourselves without money. Put your neck under her yoke, and let your souls receive instruction; it is to be found close by. See with your own eyes that I have labored but little and found for myself much serenity. Hear but little of my instruction, and through me you will acquire silver and gold." (Sirach 51:23-28)

    Now Sirach is of course one of the deuterocanonicals (or apocrypha in Protestant circles), and we know it was being studied by the Jews of Palestine in Jesus day, as we find it preserved among the Dead Sea Scrolls. I would submit that our Lord was identifying Himself as the source of wisdom (aka God's will), and that Mt 11:28, ties immediately back to Jesus' words in Mt 11:19, "Wisdom is justified by her deeds."

    What do you think?