Matthew 11: 27-30
28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
All of us feel overwhelmed, overworked, overburdened at times, don’t we? These words of Jesus feel like a cool stream on a broiling summer day to me. They are words of consolation and words of hope. But there is one particular group of people that the Lord is calling – the Jews. The religion of the Jews had become completely disconnected from God, and had become, instead, all about doing the works, the labors of religion. In the Gospel of Matthew 23: 2-4, Jesus speaks to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”
According to St. Theophylact of Ochrid, the Lord is calling all of mankind here to come to Him. He sees those who “labor” as the Jews, laboring under the Law and especially as interpreted by the Scribes, Pharisees, etc., and those who are “heaven laden” he sees as the Gentiles, whose backs are breaking under the weight of pagan darkness and sins.
29 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. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
This is a fascinating saying. A yoke is a farm implement, a wooden cross beam. It connects or binds one or more animals together to perform a task for us human beings, albeit indirectly, via a plow, a cart, a wagon, etc. Here the Lord uses this metaphor to speak of the connection between us and Himself. He means that we are yoked together. As St. Paul says, “We are co-laborers together with Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:9). And what are we pulling, together with Christ? Our fallen humanity. He is doing most of the pulling. In fact, He does all of the heavy work, taking our fallen Adam-nature to the wooden yoke of the Cross. We are hoping to co-operate with this great grace, and drag ourselves out of and away from hell and into the Kingdom. The Greek word for fellow-laborer or co-worker is “synergos.” It comes from “syn-ergeia” from which we get our English word “synergy.” It means “working together.” But what is the yoke? What is this “farm implememt” that allows us co-laboring with Christ? What is the tool? Theophylact says:
"The yoke of Christ is humility and meekness. For he who humbles himself before all men has rest and remains untroubled; but he who is vainglorious and arrogant is ever encompassed by troubles as he does not wish to be less than anyone else, but is always thinking how to be esteemed more highly and how to defeat his enemies. Therefore the yoke of Christ, which is humility, is light, for it is easier for our lowly nature to be humbled than to be exalted. But all the commandments of Christ are also called a yoke, and they are light because of the reward to come, even though for a time they appear heavy."