Take a Rest

Posted by on Jul 7, 2014 in Faith Words |

Words of Faith

Rev. Rita S. Platt

July 6, 2014

“Take a Rest”

Scripture Reading: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

According to a Greek legend, in ancient Athens a man noticed the great storyteller, Aesop, playing childish games with some little boys. He laughed and jeered at Aesop, asking him why he wasted his time in such frivolous activity. Aesop responded by picking up a bow, loosening its string, and placing it on the ground. Then he said to the critical Athenian, “Now, answer the riddle, if you can. Tell us what the unstrung bow implies.” The man looked at it for several moments but had no idea what point Aesop was trying to make. Aesop explained, “If you keep a bow always bent, it will break eventually; but if you let it go slack, it will be more fit for use when you want it.” People are also like that.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens 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.” Such beautiful words. These speak on so many different levels. They are:

* Words of peace.

* Words of rest.

* Words that we turn to for comfort during times when life is hard.

But what was Jesus thinking about when he spoke these words? To whom was he speaking, and what was going on when he said this?

Earlier in the reading Jesus is involved in some heated conversation with some of the group.  It seems that no matter whom God sent and what he did, it wasn’t good enough. “John the Baptist came neither eating nor drinking; you said he has a demon. Jesus came eating and drinking.  You called him a glutton.”  Sometimes you just can’t win; I think most of us can identify with the frustration that brings.  Well, I think that as Jesus was addressing that group he saw the others: the ones who had been beaten down by life – the people who so desperately needed to hear good news.

The peasants always had a yoke. For the most part, their lives as tenant farmers were governed by the wills and whims of the landowners. Their lives as rustic folk, whose subsistence allowed them to live only from day to day, were controlled by religious leaders who grew fat on tithes that they hoarded in the Temple instead of redistributing to the needy. In the village setting, Pharisees laid the yoke of their 613 commandments upon their followers and others who sought their advice about how to please God.

There was a lot of pressure to follow the rules and do things the right way. Such pressure could prove exhausting.

To these who were weary and heaven laden, Jesus was offering rest.  But the rest wasn’t offered as a soft, cushy pillow, it came in the form of a yoke. “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.” (11:29-30)

There is a wonderful legend concerning the quiet years of Jesus, the years prior to his visible ministry. The legend claims that Jesus the carpenter was one of the master yoke-makers in the Nazareth area. People came from miles around for a yoke, hand carved and crafted by Jesus, son of Joseph. When customers arrived with their team of oxen Jesus would spend considerable time measuring the team, their height, the width, the space between them, and the size of their shoulders. Within a week, the team would be brought back and he would carefully place the newly made yoke over the shoulders, watching for rough places, smoothing out the edges and fitting them perfectly to this particular team of oxen.

That’s the yoke Jesus invites us to take. Do not be misled by the word “easy,” for its root word in Greek speaks directly of the tailor-made yokes: they were “well-fitting.”  The yoke he invites us to wear fits us well, does not rub us nor cause us to develop sore spirits and is designed for two. His yokes were always designed for two. And our yoke-partner is none other than Christ himself.

He knows the restless tendency in us. Psychologists call the urge to travel “wanderlust.” In my judgment, every human being is infected with spiritual wanderlust. We look here and there for meaning and frequently we find ourselves exhausted.

Viktor Frankl survived the horrors of Auschwitz and wrote a book that now, years after his death, is still printed and reprinted: Man’s Search for Meaning. It is Frankl’s story of courage and survival in which human beings came through to the other side of the Nazi madness with meaning. How? Simply put, Frankl believed that the supreme need in every life is not for pleasure, as Freud suggested, or for power, as Adler proposed. But rather, the highest need in every life is for meaning. All of us long for meaning that transcends our work, every success, and life itself.

Our Lord invites us to carry the yoke with him and find in our journey the energizing, vital meaning that life offers. That discovery begins when we come to him, acknowledging that we are exhausted and empty.

Our Lord promises rest for the restless. We are a generation that longs for answers, solutions, neat formulas for success. Our Lord offers rest.  When life implodes on us, when death robs us of a loved one or disappointment snatches a friendship from our future, when even faith seems hollow and answerless, our Lord tells us to rest.

But how do we figure out in our minds how to achieve this rest? I think the point is that we’re not SUPPOSED to try and figure it all out.  Our task is to trust in God.

Remember, carpenters used to make a yoke by hand to fit the animals that would wear it.

That’s the same way with us. Following Jesus isn’t about a cookie cutter list of do’s and don’ts. It’s about resting in the fact that when we walk with him he will lead us every step of the way.

It is not that Jesus invites us to a life of ease. Walking with him will be full of risks and challenges, as he has made abundantly clear. He calls us to a life of humble service, but it is a life of freedom and joy. It is life yoked to Jesus under God’s gracious and merciful reign, free from the need to prove oneself, free to rest deeply and securely in God’s grace.

There is a story that Hebrew families tell their children to help them understand the fourth commandment. The fourth commandment reads, “Six days you shall labor but on the seventh you shall rest.” The story is called, “The Sweetest Sound.” The main character in the story is King Ruben. It goes something like this. The king asked his royal subjects, “What is the sweetest melody of all?” Early the next morning they gathered all sorts of musicians. The sound awoke the king and all morning he listened to their tunes. But, after listening to all of them he could not tell which was the sweetest sound. Finally, one subject suggested they all play together. It was so noisy the king couldn’t think. About that moment a woman, dressed in her Sunday best, pushed to the front of the crowd and stepped forward. “O, king,” she said, “I have the answer to your question.” The king was surprised since she had no instrument. “Why didn’t you come earlier?” he asked. She replied, “I had to wait until the setting of the sun.” The musicians were still playing and the king told them all to stop. The woman then took two candles and placed them on the king’s balcony rail. She lit them just as the sun continued to set. The flames glowed in the evening darkness. She then lifted her voice and said, “Blessed art thou, O Lord, Our God, King of the universe, who sanctified us with the commandments and commanded us to kindle the Sabbath lights.” She then said, “He who has an ear, let him hear.” Everyone was completely still. “What is that?” asked the king. He could not hear a sound. The woman then replied, “What you hear is the sound of rest, the sweetest melody of all.”(1)

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” This is also the sweetest sound any of us can hear.  It is an invitation to take a rest and a reminder that we were never meant to do it all by ourselves.

(1). Keith Wagner, True Freedom