I’ve long struggled to understand Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30: “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.”
If I’m honest, I’ve struggled to understand these words because they haven’t always matched my experience. Followers of Jesus do not always look rested. They don’t always look like they’re carrying light burdens.
The same applies to me.
We’re not familiar with yokes. In Jesus’ day, people would have immediately understood what he was talking about. They would picture a wooden frame that fit over the shoulders of draft animals, harnessing them to each other and to the plow they pulled together.
In rabbinic thought, a yoke referred to a rabbi’s teaching. This word picture implies that when we follow Jesus, we’re yoked to him. We walk side by side with him, and we rely on him to help carry the load.
Jesus is inviting us to come to him and to admit that we can’t carry things by ourselves. That’s why we take on his yoke: it’s the only yoke that he promises to help carry.
Jesus is contrasting his teaching with that of other religious teachers. They place impossible demands on people. What Jesus offers is something different: a way of life that is demanding but empowered by him. He asks us to follow him, and he helps us carry the load. He helps carry whatever he commands.
Following Jesus is demanding. We can’t deny that. But Jesus promises to walk with us and help us.
Michael Green paraphrases Jesus’ words: “My yokes fit well. They do not rub your neck and shoulders. Come to me. Get yoked up to me. Make an act of loyal obedience, like a bar mitzvah, to me. And you will find a deep peace and satisfaction that you could never find elsewhere. I have come for you. Come to me.”
The Yoke of Love
What Jesus offers isn’t just more obligation. He offers himself. Following him demands everything from us. Read the gospels, and you will see how much Jesus asks from us. He calls us to give up our very lives to follow him (Matthew 16:24-26).
But Jesus doesn’t just issue commands. He helps us carry the burdens of his teaching. He promises to walk with us side by side, helping us whenever we feel like following him is too heavy.
He offers us not the yoke of obligation but the yoke of love. We walk with Jesus, obeying his commands, not because we have to but because we love him, and he walks with us, and that makes all the difference.
Jesus invites us to come to him and to find in him the rest and freedom we need. It’s not a freedom from work or obedience; it’s a freedom that comes from love, by knowing that Jesus walks beside us, helping us carry all that he commands.
That’s an invitation too important to ignore.