Christian Living Stories: The Yoke Was On Me!

No — it’s neither misprint nor “typo.” The yoke really was on me. Both of us, two students participating in an archaeological excavation at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, had decided to cross the Judean Wilderness, Beit Hanina to Jericho along the Wadi Kilt, on foot. Way outside the tourist box, perhaps, but, hey, you’re only young once!

Not a lot of special gear required. Temperatures of 125° F in the shade did, however, mean we needed to carry water. And water is heavy to hike with.

That was my introduction to the Bedouin pack. It was unlike anything I had seen in the West, where we tend to focus the entire load on our backs — then compensate for it with harnesses and extra straps, et al.

The Bedouin pack is simplicity itself. A variation on their camel saddle-bag, it’s like a colourful, thick goat-hair woven poncho with a hole for your head and large pouches front and back. When your burden is distributed evenly between the pouches, you can carry quite heavy loads, because the pressure is directed evenly and vertically through the spine, enabling healthy, upright posture. No narrow straps biting or chafing your shoulders. No leaning to compensate for pressure on your back.

Ingenious! Nifty! Just what we needed: a valuable lesson learned from desert nomads.

Poor exegesis and enthusiasm for a metaphor had left my poor Bedouin pack unintentionally misrepresenting the extent of Jesus Christ’s mediation.

Years later, opportunity came to preach to Christian congregations about Jesus’ wonderful invitation in Matthew 11:28-30: “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, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Understandably, the Bedouin pack found its way as illustrative material into my message. After all, there were some valuable parallels, such as:

  • redistributing one’s life-burden more manageably by reframing our priorities to be more Christ-like.
  • better preparing for potentially “chafing” situations by adopting Christ-like attitudes.

All of it grist to the mill — and I reckon I can squeeze as much learning content out of a metaphor as the next preacher. That Bedouin pack served faithfully for 35 years as a ready-to-go, familiar “chestnut” whenever the occasion arose — until I read A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God, chapter 9: “Meekness and Rest.”

Metaphors and analogies are wonderful — to a point. As a student and young minister keen to please the Master, I had grabbed hold of a personal experience and used it in support of his teaching.

The spirit was willing; the exegesis was terrible. Sincere as the day is long…and irrelevant to the point Jesus was making.

The flaw in my ready-to-go, familiar “chestnut” was that it left the yoke — the burden — on me…alone. Redistributed, yes. Easier, yes. Better able to do my bit, yes. But poor exegesis and enthusiasm for a metaphor had left my poor Bedouin pack unintentionally — and woefully — under-selling, and thus misrepresenting the extent of Jesus Christ’s mediation on our behalf and role on our life.

The metaphor Jesus used wasn’t the Bedouin pack. It was the Jewish cattle-yoke, to which an inexperienced ox could be harnessed alongside a stronger, seasoned “veteran” from whom:

  • it could learn how to fulfil its role.
  • its weakness could be compensated for by the other’s greater strength.
  • it could not stray at a whim; the yoke would keep it focused in the right direction.

Jesus invites us to take his yoke willingly — voluntarily join with him so he can bring us safely through the complex training-ground that is life.

And, of course, there’s the biggie of them all: cattle are given no choice. We are — that’s Jesus’ wonderful invitation: that we take his yoke willingly — voluntarily join with him so he can bring us safely through the complex training-ground that is life.

These are reassuring dimensions of the Master’s role in our relationship that are not even suggested in my Bedouin pack. In retrospect, if I had completed the ACCM (Ambassador College of Christian Ministry) course on good exegesis, Jesus and the Gospels, I would not have made that mistake.

But I hadn’t, so I did. And so the yoke was on me…alone. It needn’t have been, but I’d made it that way in sincere, well-intended ignorance.

Now that it’s fixed, what we’re left with is Jesus’ original intent, as Tozer puts it: “The needed grace will come as we learn that we are sharing this new and easy yoke with the strong Son of God Himself. He calls it ‘my yoke,’ and He walks at one end while we walk at the other.”

It’s much better Jesus’ way, isn’t it?

Author: Kerry Gubb


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