When Jesus thought about the role that religion played in the lives of the people around him, he came up with the image of an ox, fitted with a cumbersome wooden yoke, trudging along, pulling a heavy load behind it. It is not an inspiring image.
We live in an age which is increasingly sceptical of organised religion. Many of the people around us would share Jesus’ impression. All too often, religion weighs people down and ties them up them up in its rules. What should be a liberating influence in their lives, becomes an additional complication, an additional expense - an additional burden to carry.
What Jesus observed was that for all the extra demand that religion put on people’s lives, it still didn’t bring them any closer to God. His life’s work was to show people that they could come to God and experience his love without any of the paraphernalia of religion, and without the heavy load of guilt that a law-based faith imposed on anyone who tried to follow it.
"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.”
Sadly, the Christian religion has repeatedly failed to follow Jesus’ lead. Christianity has defined its own laws, and established its own set of religious rituals; it has repeatedly made heavy demands on people’s finances, and imposed tight controls on their personal lives. Christianity has placed on its followers the very same burdens of guilt and fear that Jesus was seeking to alleviate.
We need to follow Jesus’ lead. Our role, as carriers of his beautiful message, is to lighten the load of people who feel weighed down by the complications of life, and assure them that close relationship with God is easy, not difficult. Our role is to release people from guilt, and remind them that the only law that matters is the call to love God and neighbour.
If we are not making life easier for people, if our yoke is not easy and our burden not light, then we are not doing the work of Jesus.