Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Just Yoking

There is always something special that happens in me during the month of May. For the many years I have been in school (or teaching school), finishing the semester always brings me a brief feeling of euphoria. By then, I rarely care much about my grades. I am just happy to have worked hard and completed the task. 
After I have turned in my last paper or finished my last test, I feel like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I walk around smiling at people and noticing the beauty around me. Although I know that my pursuit of learning is not finished and classes will start again, for some stretch of time, everything feels light. I will often continue to read and learn when I am between classes, but it feels very different when I am doing so out of my own enjoyment for knowledge and learning.
In Matthew 11, Jesus is speaking as a teacher to those who would become his students. According to Rob Bell’s article “Covered in the Dust of your Rabbi”, a Jewish Rabbi would often have a very complex (and very strict) system of rules for his students to follow during their apprenticeship, called a yoke. Matthew 23 even suggests that these teachers may have also had physical weights that they would impose upon their shoulders. 
In addition, Bell says that Rabbis were the Rock Stars of Jesus’ day. Becoming the apprentice of a Rabbi might have been like a young singer being invited to Hollywood by the American Idol judges. However, for the few who were lucky enough to become students of a Rabbi in those days, life was not easy.
Knowing this cultural context, the meaning of Matthew 11:25-30 changes immensely. Instead of imposing artificial difficulty on those who did not have natural difficulty, Jesus said he desired to offer relief to those experiencing difficulty. Instead of choosing the cream of the crop, Jesus addressed the weeds and the thorns as well. Most importantly, Jesus decided to bear our burden himself.
I wonder why Christians are not experiencing daily that euphoric feeling of lightness. Instead of that end-of-semester feeling, it seems to me that Christians bear additional weight because we are constantly trying to live up to our self-imposed yokes. Is your burden light?

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