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Jul 31, 2023 1165 Karen Eberts, USA
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Trudging Through Fallow Ground

Never had I realized the actual meaning of “yoke” until…

Feeling a sense of heaviness this morning, I knew it was a clear call to spend an extended time of prayer. Knowing God’s presence is the antidote for all ills, I settled into my “prayer closet,” which, for today, was located on my front porch. Alone but for the birds chirping and a calm breeze sifting through the trees, I rested in the sounds of gentle worship music coming from my phone. I’ve often experienced the freedom that comes from taking my eyes off myself, my relationships, or the concerns of the world. Turning my attention to God reminded me of the verse from Psalm 22: “You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel” (3). Indeed, God inhabits the praises of his people.

I began to feel centered once again, free from the burdens hovering over our nation and world. Peace returned as I sensed my call was not to carry them but to embrace the yoke Jesus offers in the Gospel of Matthew: “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.” (11: 28,29).

Hallmark of a Christian

Both of my parents grew up on farms. They may have seen two animals connected by a wooden crosspiece fastened over their necks, but I had not. I had always interpreted that verse by picturing Jesus partnering with us in life. He, shouldering the brunt of the load, and I, walking alongside, accomplishing what was mine to do with His help and guidance.

But recently, I learned that a “yoke” was a first-century Jewish idiom that meant something completely different from the agrarian image of oxen connected by their necks.

“Yoke,” as used by Jesus, refers to a rabbi’s collection of teachings. By choosing to follow the teachings of a particular rabbi, a person becomes his disciple and chooses to walk with him. Jesus, in effect, is saying, “I am showing you what it is like to walk with God.” It is not a duty nor an obligation but a privilege and a gift! Though I had experienced Jesus’ “yoke” as a privilege and gift, the “troubles of the world” he promised we would experience often dampened my joy that is to be the hallmark of a Christian.

During this morning’s prayer, I opened a book written nearly twenty-five years ago by a Franciscan priest, and turned to a page that sounded like it was written today:

‘When grace is no longer an experienced reality, it seems the realm of freedom is lost, too…It’s so easy to demonize the other side. We see it written large in elections in this country. All either party knows how to do is attack the other side. We don’t have anything positive to believe in, anything that is enlightened or rich, or deep. Negative identity, shallow as it is, comes more easily than dedicated choice. It is frankly much easier to be against than for. Even in the Church, many have no positive vision forward so they lead the charge backward or against. Note that Jesus’ concept of ‘the Reign of God’ is totally positive—not fear-based or against any individual, group, sin, or problem.’ (Everything Belongs, 1999)

Bit by Bit

The heaviness I’d been feeling resulted not only from the divisiveness in our country but also between those in my own circle who, like me, call Jesus “Lord,” yet seem unable to honor the different call and path of another. Knowing that Jesus restored dignity to those whom society had shamed, shouldn’t this be what we, as His followers, seek to do for one another? Including, not excluding; reaching out, not turning away; listening, not condemning.

I struggled with it myself. It was hard to understand how others could see things in a way that to me seemed contrary to the Christian message, yet they had the same difficulty in looking through the lens through which I now viewed the “yoke” of Jesus. I’d learned years ago the value of having a “teachable” spirit. It is easy for us to feel we have the only truth, yet, if we are steadfast disciples, we will continually expand our vision through not only prayer but through reading, meditating on Scripture, and listening to those wiser than ourselves. Whom we choose to allow into a place of influence over us is paramount. Persons of tested faith and integrity who have lived “lives worthy of their calling” deserve our attention. Above all, the example of those who model love, seeking the good of all, will help us grow and change over the years. Our character will be refined, bit by bit, as we are being “transformed into the image of Christ.”

If we, in all our enlightenment, still feel we must speak the truth as we understand it, even with the love that is to accompany it, it is all too easy to err in thinking that we are the voice of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life! Only God knows the heart, mind, and obedience of a life lived for Him. The work of His Spirit and the response of another are not our jurisdictions.

Certainly, a good parent would not point the finger at a young child and insist they act like an adult. A good parent understands that it takes many years, much teaching, and a good example for the child to mature. Thankfully, we have a very Good Parent! Psalm 22 came to mind again. The same psalm that Jesus quoted from the cross, at the depths of His pain and suffering, ends with the reminder that each generation will tell their children about the good things the Lord has done. Grace abounds, and freedom follows. I determined again to offer both to those I don’t understand and don’t understand me.

The One with whom I am yoked for life shows me the way.

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Karen Eberts

Karen Eberts is a retired Physical Therapist. She is the mother to two young adults and lives with her husband Dan in Largo, Florida

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