Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

To Break Every Yoke

Today let us examine two different yokes mentioned in the Bible. We begin with a prophecy from Isaiah. God’s people were complaining that he did not listen to them. He was not observing their fast. God answered them:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?   (Isaiah 58:5-7)

Israel was not keeping their covenant with God. Their leaders were keeping people in bondage3 by strict laws restricting their freedom while not really caring for them. Again from Isaiah:

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.   (Isaiah 58:9-10)

Why would we want to a yoke on another person? Perhaps we might say that this is a controlling spirit. Maybe, but what might be behind such a spirit. For Israel, I believe it was this: God was limiting his blessings and they were wondering why overlooking the obvious. They were breaking the commandments of God. Rather than looking at themselves, they sought to blame someone else. Jesus taught:

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”   (Luke 6:37-38)

Judgments and blessings are not compatible. When we cease to judge and return to God, the blessings come. Returning to the Isaiah prophecy:

The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;

and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.   (Isaiah 58:11-12)

Now let us look at the second yoke:

“Come to me, all you who 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.”   (Matthew 11:28-30)

As human beings, we will always be wearing a yoke in our present lives. Which yoke will be chosen? Unless we know Jesus, the first yoke will be chosen for us. The ones who attempt to yoke us are never satisfied. In some ways, they are under a bigger yoke.

Let us lay down our burdens at the cross and come under his Lordship. He will teach us a new way to live. And he will usher us into the Kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul characterized the Kingdom:

For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.   (Romans 14:17)

The kingdom begins now. It begins when we choose Jesus as our Savior and Lord. Our lives change. We will still experience conflict in our lives, but we have a promise that God fulfills through his Son Jesus. Jesus said:

 I have said this to you so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution, but take courage: I have conquered the world!   (John 16:33)

The Devil will try to steal our peace. But we must not let him by keeping our focus on Jesus and not our circumstances. The Apostle Paul wrote:

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.   (Galatians 5:1)

 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become enslaved to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”   (Galatians 5:13-14)

When set free, our ministry is to live in this freedom for others to see. Jesus said:

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.   (Matthew 5:14-16)

People will be watching us. The Apostle Peter wrote:

 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear,[and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect.   (1 Peter 3:13-16)

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Filed under Revised Common Lectionary

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