IT IS A MATTER OF A YOKE
In the early years of my childhood in Rhodesia, it was a common sight to see a span of oxen joined together by a yoke, pulling a wagon, or ploughing a field to prepare it for planting. Those were the days before farm machinery or vehicles became the norm in Africa. The pioneers that traversed many mountains, rivers and thick bush used oxen, mules and if they were fortunate enough horses to bring civilization to the interior of Africa. On the Mission Station where I was born oxen were used for a variety of tasks including pulling the Mission truck across the Tuli river bed once flood waters had receded.
The task of training a span of oxen to walk together in the yoke required a fair amount of skill.
A well trained and strong ox would head the team and then an untrained ox would share the yoke with the trained leader. At first the untrained ox would resist the yolk but the lead ox was strong and quickly subdued his errant partner and before long the two walked in harmony.
For me it was a common sight to see a farmer walking behind a plough cutting deep furrows in the virgin soil, being pulled by several oxen walking in unison in their yokes.
Working with a span of oxen was not without its dangers though.
One morning at Rufaro Mission we heard a voice calling in Shona: Mfundisi please help me, please help me. Glyn and I stepped out onto the porch and could hardly believe what our eyes were seeing. Stumbling towards the house was one of the African men who we had nicknamed, “Dick”. He was holding up his right arm at the elbow and a dirty rag soaked in blood was haphazardly wrapped around his hand. I ran for the kitchen to grab some clean kitchen towels while Glyn sat Dick down and began to listen to what had happened. Dick was ploughing his field to get ready to plant maize, (white kernel corn), he had his strong lead ox in the yoke with a totally untrained ox. The untrained ox was being particularly stubborn and the chains from the plough disc to the oxen’s yoke became tangled. Dick stopped the oxen and reached down to untangle the chains when the untrained ox bolted, instantly the chain whipped around the four fingers of Dick’s right hand hauling it across the sharp blade of the plough disc. In a matter of seconds Dick’s four fingers were sliced clear through the bone just leaving bare stubs. As fast as we could we removed the dirty rag, cleaned the wound as best as possible and then tightly wrapped his damaged hand with clean towels, then Glyn raced the suffering man to the nearest clinic which was 30 miles away.
Anyone who has worked using a span of oxen will tell you that it is exhausting work and needed someone with nerves of steel to be constantly aware of the oxen’s mood as even the best trained can be unpredictable. Just one moment of Dick letting down his guard cost him the four fingers on his right hand.
There is a spiritual lesson that we can learn from the yolk used in years gone by.
While teaching to a crowd of people Jesus uses the yoke to drive home a truth by using anillustration of something everyone listening would completely understand.
Matthew 11:28-30 (NKJV) “Come to Me, all you 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.”
Jesus spent a good portion of his life as a ‘working man’. Brought up as the son of a carpenter, he spent many years laboring in the workshop and ‘on site’ before starting the ministry for which He had come to fulfill. He probably fashioned yokes as a part of His trade. Over those years, his hands would have no doubt been cut and calloused and his back would have no doubt ached. Like anyone involved with physical labor, he would most certainly have known what it was like to be weary at the end of the day.
But Jesus recognized that there is another weariness that is far more destructive, whatever our task in life is. It is the weariness of soul and spirit; a weariness we feel when life’s pressures and problems relentlessly crowd in and there seems to be no relief from the onslaught that life throws at us.
These verses in Matthew that Jesus spoke were addressing this type of weariness.
It would seem that Jesus made an amazingly kind, yet astonishingly simple promise when He said to the listening crowd: “come to me and I’ll lift from your back this load that you have been carrying all by yourself.”
Can you imagine the joy that was flooding the hearts of these life weary listeners! This teacher was going to give them a cure from the cares of life!
Then Jesus says something strange and probably confusing: for not only does He promise to lift their burden from their backs, but He then invites them to pick up His burden instead!
I can just imagine the incredulous response in the hearts of the people……………..
Seriously Jesus……..you just told us to shed our burden and your promise of rest is to pick up your yoke?
I am so thankful that Jesus did not stop there…………… look what He goes on to say: ‘Take my yoke upon you and LEARN from me.’
Jesus was PAINTING A PICTURE of how animals were trained in those days. One new to the job would be harnessed alongside one that had been doing it for years and ‘knew the ropes’. In this way, the new arrival would learn how to do things so much more quickly and easily.
Jesus is encouraging his listeners that this is what He wanted to do for them and the exciting news is that this also includes you and me.
Hear Him saying to us today; come alongside me, walk with me, and let me show you how to do things; for as you do, the burden will seem so much lighter.
YES, He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. (Isaiah 40:29)
Isaiah 40:29 (NKJV) He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength.