"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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."
When we hear the word yoke, we tend to think of the harness that hooks two farm animals together -like the yoke of oxen or mules. We get this imagery from our own Western agricultural experience and the fact that we actually call that kind of harness a yoke.
If understood this way, Jesus seems to be saying that the bond we have with Him is easy to bear. The idea of being joined to Jesus and allowing Him to share our burdens -that we are not alone in this struggle is an appealing one. It is also truth. We are not alone, and Jesus does join us in our struggles and shares our burdens. But this is not exactly what Jesus was saying; at least, this is not how His listeners at the time would have understood Him.
The word yoke as understood by Jewish people of Jesus' day referred to the unique or specific body of teaching by a Rabbi. Each Rabbi had a worldview and an interpretation of Scripture that they taught their students. Most of the Rabbis of Jesus day were teaching a very strict and legalistic and burdensome view of God and of Scripture. They were teaching that God was a hard taskmaster and in order to please Him, one had to keep thousands of laws and maintain all sorts of traditions. Then Jesus came teaching a whole different relationship with God. And He gave the invitation, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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."
So, what exactly was this teaching of Jesus that stood in such stark contrast to yoke of other Rabbis? I believe it is this: "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."