For most of us this comes after we have tried to do something our way and gotten into trouble. Our human pride resists the idea that we need help. This is the spiritual version of our tendency to not read the instructions on assembling something until all else fails. It is often a dramatic and painful moment. We have come face to face with the limitations of our humanity. We are often like the people in the first part of the Matthew (11.16-19, 25-30) Reading who fail to respond to the teaching and ministry of both John the Baptist and Jesus. In the gospel Reading Jesus is inviting us to respond. We are invited to give up our pride and come to Jesus. This is a the essence of a conversion experience. We turn from our old way that has failed and come humbly to Jesus.
1. Come to Jesus time is when we realize we need help
2. The Holy Spirit is the ‘yoke of Christ’ that guides believers
A yoke is the ancient wooden frame that used to hold two farm animals together in pulling a plough. The yoke makes sure they pull together and keep in step. In ancient times the farmer would yoke an inexperienced animal to an experienced animal. The inexperienced animal would learn to work together - to serve, with another animal. Jesus is teaching us that we are to learn from following Him (Matthew11.29). We are joined to Jesus - yoked, in our Baptism. We learn how to follow Him by studying the Bible regularly and praying. We are to be like Abraham’s servant in the Genesis reading. The servant is determined to be obedient. He prays for success. He prays for a sign so he will know if the woman he meets is the one God has chosen. The Apostle Paul is also ‘yoked to Jesus’ as he struggles against the temptations of his sinful or selfish human nature. The spiritual yoke of his relationship to Jesus is what holds him firmly on the right path. If he goes to slowly the yoke pulls him forward. If he gets ahead of Jesus, the spiritual yoke of his Baptism pulls him back. In even the simplest details of life the Holy Spirit is there to guide him. Paul refers to the Law - the Hebrew Law, as being like a spiritual yoke or guide that helps him know when he is doing something that is spiritually destructive.
3. The yoke is easy and leads us to blessingAbraham is blessed with cattle and wealth as a consequence of being yoked to God in a spiritual covenant of obedience. His servant is also blessed for his obedience as the angel leads him to the right woman and seems to move obstacles out of his way. Jesus offers us the same yoke of blessing. We are not to be like the proud and arrogant majority who dismissed both John the Baptist and Jesus. Those people missed a wonderful opportunity to receive God’s blessing. Jesus is teaching us that we have to “take” His yoke and put in on ourselves. This means we have to make a choice to get involved, to voluntarily come under His authority. The good news is that as we come under the yoke or authority of Jesus, we are guided to great spiritual blessings. Our primary blessing is forgiveness. Jesus offers us the free gift of forgiveness. This enables us to become spiritually cleansed and be filled and energized by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
4. The yoke is a light burden that gives us the peace of a servant
Deep inside each of us there is fear. At some level, usually at a level we are not conscious of, we are afraid that God will judge us. This is the natural consequence of our freedom. Freedom is the freedom to make mistakes, to be responsible - and to feel guilty. The alternative is to be a servant, to be a person who does not have complete freedom. While our culture generally thinks of servants as carrying a heavy burden of obedience; there is another side to being a servant. The other side is that since you are not making the decisions, you are not responsible - or guilty, of wrong choices. As long as they have been obedient, servants can sleep at night. They are under the physical - and spiritual protection of their master. This is why Jesus tells us to “take my yoke upon you” (Matthew 11.29). This is the only way in which we can escape from the burden of our own destructive ideas and actions and come under His spiritual protection. Those who do not make this choice to put on the yoke of Christ remain outside Jesus spiritual kingdom. They receive no guidance from the Holy Spirit. They carry the enormous burden of guilt for all the sins they have ever committed. In comparison to this, the burden of Jesus is light. It is an urgent choice if we want to have peace with God.
Jesus challenges us to decide to become servants and put on His yokeThis is the opposite of “doing our own thing”. We are called to personally serve Jesus. This is very countercultural and unpopular. It may not seem easy at first, but it is easier than the alternative. It may seem heavy at first, but in the long run it is a lot less heavy than a burden of guilt and shame. As Lucille and I have moved deeper into healing ministry, we have both experienced the joy of becoming free of our own hidden guilt and shame. We have seen many lives changed as other people have asked the Holy Spirit to guide them to the roots of guilt and shame, usually in childhood. These lies deny the basic goodness of God’s creation. Many people secretly believe they are no good or not loved by God. They need to confess believing a lie about their identity. These confessions expose and break the power and the burden of the lie. Carrying the hidden burden of a lie that you are no good or not wanted is much harder than the yoke of Jesus.
At some point we all have ‘come to Jesus’ experiences.