Lay Your Burden Down
Notice the "Deeds"
"Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds"(11:19). Just because we ignore Wisdom's invitation to a life of repentance and joy doesn't negate the validity of that invitation, the integrity and power of the life to which it leads. Jesus' identity is vindicated in the acts and signs that demonstrate that the inbreaking presence of the kingdom of God. When the disciples of John the Baptist in 11:4-6 come asking about who he is, Jesus tells them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: 'the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.
Jesus pronounces woes on the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum because they have failed to respond to the deeds of power he has done there (11:20-24).
You Have to Lay Your Burden Down
"Come to me you who labor 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" (11:28-30).
The background to this text is found in the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach, a book written by a Jewish scribe in around 125 B.C.E. The author invites people to study the law with these words:
Put your necks under her yoke, and let your soul accept her burden. See, I have worked but little and found much rest.
"The yoke of the law" is a common phrase in rabbinic writings. Jesus was not so much criticizing the law itself, but the scribes who load people down with burdens hard to bear (Lk. 11:46; Mt. 23:4).
"You who labor and are carrying heavy burdens" refers to those who have lost the spirit of the law (constant gratitude to and mindfulness of God) in the letter—believing that adherence to a multitude of precepts and commandments constitutes righteousness.
"I will give you rest." (See Mt. 12:43; Rev. 6:11, 14:13.) The rest is both future and immediate. It could also be rendered "I will refresh you." In the kingdom of God, the faithful find rest.
"Take my yoke upon you . . ." The yoke of Jesus is humility and concern for the despised.
"I am gentle and lowly of heart." This echoes the description of the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 42:2f and 53:1f.
"And you will find rest for your souls." This rest is not inner contentment and inactivity. It comes from returning to God and faithfulness to God's will. The disciple takes on the yoke of Christ and learns to become gentle and lowly himself in the process. (Hill, 206-209)
In order to answer Jesus' invitation to participate in his deeds of power and his life of joy, we have to lay down certain burdens that we have mistaken for blessings.
I can't help but think of the time worn anecdote about catching monkeys in the wild. When trying to catch a monkey for the zoo trappers take a small cage out into the jungle. Inside the cage they place a bunch of bananas and then they close it, locking the bananas inside. A monkey coming along and spotting the bananas, will reach through the narrow rungs of the cage and grab a banana. But he can't get it out. And no matter how hard he tries—twisting his hand back and forth—he can't pull his hand through the rungs while hanging on to the banana. And even with the approaching trappers he won't let go of the banana. For the trappers, it's simply a matter then, of coming up and grabbing the monkey.
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.