A Yoke of Paradox

We all know the famous passage in Matthew 11 where Jesus describes his "yoke":
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.”
What is this "yoke" and to what other "yoke" is Jesus making a contrast with, his "yoke" as opposed to some other "yoke" the people were carrying and pulling?

Many people think that the "yoke" Jesus is making a contrast with was the "yoke" of the Torah. That is, Jesus is ushering in a law of grace--the "yoke" of Jesus--as opposed to a law of works-based righteousness--the "yoke" of Torah obedience.

Now, is true that Torah obedience was described by the rabbis as a yoke. However, if you look at the Old Testament the image of the yoke has less to do with Torah obedience than two other things: 1) punishment for sin and 2) the experience of political oppression. And in Israel's experience of exile these were, in fact, the same thing. Punishment for sin was political oppression during the exile.

If the yoke the people were carrying, then, was the yoke of judgment and exile then the yoke of Jesus is a pronouncement of forgiveness as the end of Israel's exile.

Jesus replaces the yoke of judgment, punishment and exile with a yoke of grace. A paradoxical yoke that is easy and light.

The labor of grace that brings us rest.

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4 thoughts on “A Yoke of Paradox”

  1. Sounds like something N. T. Wright would agree with. I think of Paul in -- Galatians? -- talking about freedom, law, grace, Spirit, and the "yoke of slavery" -- "You were running a good race; who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? It is for freedom that Christ has set us free; stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" Is it that Paul is talking about a completely different yoke?

  2. It's easier to keep the law than to enter rest.................and its impossible to keep the law.

  3. I think of the religious people who put a yoke of judgement, punishment and exile on others, not only in a religious way, but also politically and socially, in order to feel assured that the others do not have license to "do as they please". But in doing so, they create a burden they themselves cannot carry, except only through pretense and denial. Ironically, it is a hard lesson that the yoke of grace and rest comes only through the giving of more grace to those around us than we reserve for ourselves.

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