July 5, 2020
Work That Restores
What kind of rest is Jesus promising when he says, “Come to me, all you that are weary” (Matt. 11:28)? It isn’t about a day off, though given Jesus’ faithfulness to the Jewish Torah, sabbath rest is surely part of his vision for human life. But Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me” (Matt. 11:29). These are words that mean work: a yoke is what you put on oxen so they can pull a plow. These words don’t sound like rest! But they invite us to do the work that really matters, instead of the work that only wearies our bodies and souls.
Jesus invites us to take on his teaching and his way of working for the kingdom. He is gracious to those who follow him in this labor. He does not put impossible tasks on people or reject people because they are not perfect. This is how he brings rest for weary souls. This is what makes his burden light.
Jesus also invites his followers to join him in doing the work that matters, the labor that satisfies: loving our neighbor, caring for the needy, seeking justice for those excluded, feeding the hungry, forgiving those who do harm, seeking liberation for people who are oppressed, teaching others that God is love for all. This is work that might make your body weary but will give life to your soul. This work might make you tired by the end of the day, but it is the kind of tired that feels satisfying and leads to good, restful sleep.
To follow Jesus is to find ourselves working for the things that matter to our hearts and to God. What a gift to follow such a gracious, gentle, and humble Lord.
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The Readings in the Bible
Chapters 9–16 in the Gospel of Matthew alternate between what we might call the bad news describing actual human existence, even in the church, and the good news of the kingdom of heaven made known in Jesus Christ. In chapter 11, John the Baptist has been imprisoned, and Jesus condemned those who remained unrepentant. In the appointed section, Jesus spoke comfortingly about God’s gracious will, saying that, paradoxically, the burden of faith was light. Matthew described Christian life as Christ’s yoke, a metaphor Jewish tradition had used to describe the law as assisting the path through life. Matthew’s concern about authority in the church remains evident.
Chapters 1–8 of Zechariah include a series of hopeful visions responding positively to the return from exile and the rebuilding of the temple. However, Second Zechariah, chapters 9–14, perhaps coming from another and later author, proclaimed that only in God would there be success, safety, and comfort. In the appointed oracle, the prophet promised peace not from the present king, but from a future one, who would enter the city on a lowly donkey, rather than a charger and a royal chariot. The prophet also recalls the covenant of blood sealed between God and the people.
Continuing through his letter to the church in Rome and writing in the Greco-Roman culture that assumed a slave economy in which most people served those placed above them, Paul employed the metaphor of slavery to describe the powerful domination of sin. Paradoxically, freedom in Christ is also slavery to God.