So. How are all those “New Year’s Resolution” style Lenten disciplines going? Have we failed to follow the diet, stick with the exercise regimen, and begun yelling at the kids again? If you, like me, are mourning how hard and fast your perseverance fizzled and are eating a great big piece of humble pie this fourth week of Lent, may I make a suggestion?
The Greek word for “sin” in the Bible is ᾰ̔μᾰρτᾰ́νω (hamartánō) which literally means “missing the mark.” In the ancient Greek world of the first century, if someone missed the bullseye in archery, it would be said that the person shooting the arrow “sinned.” We all miss the mark. We all sin. That humble awareness is part of what Lent is about. However, we can’t get stuck in the self-loathing that can live and thrive there.
The only difference between Peter and Judas is that Peter believed God’s forgiveness and mercy was waaaay bigger than any sin we could ever commit, right? Peter understood that even though we humans repeatedly miss the mark, God’s love was infinitely bigger and stronger than any sin we could ever commit. Judas on the other hand couldn’t embrace this prodigal nature of God’s grace. He mistakenly believed his sin was too big for God to forgive.
So, my suggestion? Let’s “be like Peter”! Let’s decide to stop wasting our energy beating ourselves up and making such a fuss over our failings (which really shouldn’t be that surprising any longer) and let’s imagine together Jesus inviting us to begin again. Instead of throwing in the towel on all our hopes for this holy season, let’s trust in God’s love and mercy and continue to remain open to all the opportunities for transformation that Lent offers us. But, perhaps we can start with a slightly different aim this time around? Are you game? Then let’s take a deep healing breath and hear these words of Jesus…
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30)
Jesus is likely referencing a couple things here, for both the learned and the humble workers who were in earshot. A “yolk” was a common idiom used in ancient times to describe the way in which a rabbi interprets the Torah – so all rabbis would have a certain “yolk” or “take” on how we hear and respond to the Word of God. BUT a yolk is ALSO a piece of farming equipment that connects two oxen, so they are “yoked” together to help each other in plowing a field or pulling a heavy cart.
So, in this verse, Jesus is not inviting us to give assent to a certain set of ideas or a list of moral obligations. He does not ask us to pray to him, understand him, or worship Him but rather to FOLLOW him; to “take up his yoke” and adopt His way of life. Jesus is inviting us to a lifestyle of being yoked with Him. For Keeps. Daily. Always.
Here is the key point. Jesus doesn’t offer those of us who are weary and burdened a nap or a vacation. He offers us equipment! He is saying that if we properly order our time, energy and will and are not inclined towards control but rather are willing to be “yoked” with Him, then everything we do will be in cooperation and union with God – and our work will be “easy and light.” It’s a sort of mysticism of service. Jesus is trying to give us equipment to do life differently.
“Jesus realizes that the most restful gift he can give the tired is a new way to carry life, a fresh way to bear responsibilities…life is a succession of burdens…but instead of offering an escape, Jesus offers us equipment.” Jesus is inviting us to trust and surrender to His yoke that “will develop in us a balanance and a ‘way’ of carrying life that will give more rest than the way we have been living.” (Dale Bruner)
This is not just a “Lenten thing.” This is an on-going invitation. So, no self-abasement. No discouragement. Those rotten, soul-sucking things are not of God. Surrender. Leaning into Christ. Trust. This is the yolk we are invited by Jesus to put on every…single…day.
** Again, many of the insights above are gleaned from the work of John Mark Comer.
**And, check out this post from 3/27 – because, of course, Richard Rohr always says it better:
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