Rest for our souls


The parables of Jesus fascinate me. Throughout a lifetime of study, one could return to them over and over to mine new insights and fresh observations. Biblical parables represent a simple, uniquely Hebraic genre used by ancient teachers like Jesus to make complicated aspects of faith understandable to the average person. One short parable of Jesus which appears at the end of Matthew 11 offers the same relevance today for the average man as it did almost 2000 years ago.

In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 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.”

In the language of Jesus’ world, a yoke meant more than simply a harness for two animals that magnified their strength. Evidence suggests that in the rabbinic sayings of that day, the word yoke stood for a teacher’s corpus of teachings including the details of how to practice faith. This meaning is supported by Jesus’ own statement, “Take my yoke (i.e. teaching) upon you and learn from me…” Additionally, in the Jewish world, one is said to put on and take off the yoke of the Kingdom of God with the recitation of the grand statement of faith (the Shema) in the morning and evening. As a rabbinic word picture, a yoke represented teaching or belief in action.

If I could be so bold to paraphrase the parable into modern language it would read: “Everyone who views their religion as a burden should come, join me, and I will introduce them to a different, rejuvenating way. Take my teachings and learn from me. Since I understand humility, I am not harsh. You will find that my way provides rest for your physical body and your spirit. My teaching is simple; my demands uncomplicated.”

In one regard, Jesus’ teachings are easy and simple to learn. Yet they are difficult to master well. Loving the God of the Bible and loving one’s neighbor actually provides great protection in this life and needs not be burdensome. But when our selfish desires and sinful inclinations conflict with these aims, an internal battle rages over who would be king of our lives. Thankfully, our Lord Jesus understands us, and he is not harsh. Rather he acts as a patient teacher who keeps the demands of faith simple.

Faith based on a relationship with a holy God should not be a burden, but rather a rejuvenating fountain of life. This is not the case for those who have exchanged the wonder of relationship for sterile religion. Jewish theologian and philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel states it perfectly when he suggests that when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a fountain of life its message

becomes entirely meaningless. I have experienced that a sincere relationship with Jesus — his person and his teachings — helps prevent faith from becoming a burdensome heirloom. He leads us to find rest for our souls.

Kyle A. Kettering graduated from Xenia Christian High School in 1998, Cedarville University in 2004, and Nyack’s Alliance Theological Seminary in 2017 with a degree in ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He serves as a teaching elder at Church of the Messiah in Xenia.

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