Replica of First Century Galilee Boat

“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.”

Jesus as Rabbi:
Part 1: What is a Rabbi?
Part 2: Was Jesus a Rabbi?
Part 3: Jesus’ Miracles
Part 4: Jesus and other Rabbis
Part 5: Jesus and the Pharisees
Part 6: Bringing up Disciples

In this set of articles in this series, we are exploring the relationship between the rabbi and his disciples. In this article we will examine the key characteristic which distinguishes one authoritative (s’mikah) rabbi from another, that is, his yoke.

In Judiasm, there are 613 commands, mitzvot, given by God in the Torah. As a result of the variety of real life, there were often times where one or more of these commands might come into apparent conflict with other commands.

For instance, on the Sabbath, which was required to be kept holy, what if an animal fell into a pit? Getting it out would require work (violating Sabbath), but to leave it in the pit would be cruel (in violation of the commands against cruelty to animals). In such a case, which was the greater (heavier) command and which was the lesser (lighter) command?

The yoke of a rabbi would help his talmidim to determine how to interpret Torah correctly, so as to best hear and obey God in everyday situations where one command/principal might conflict with another.

Finding the Yoke

The simplest way of learning the heart of a rabbi’s yoke was to ask him “What is the greatest commandment (mitzva)?” Thus we read:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

First off, it should be noticed that this exchange was not likely a hostile one (per our earlier discussion on Pharisees), but one of honest inquiry. Secondly, Jesus lays out a very simple yoke: Love God and Love your neighbor. As he notes, all of the Torah and the writings of the Prophets come from those two commands. Thus, mitzva which are part of “love God” supercede those of “love your neighbor”. All of Jesus’ teaching is in line with this simple yoke.

In fact, of all of the rabbinic yokes recorded, Jesus’ is the simplest to remember, though it then requires great discernment to apply, rather than reliance on a set of legalistic ‘hedges’ or standards. And so we read where Jesus says:

“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.”

This ‘burden’ is not the burden of sin (though he touches on this in other places), but rather the burden of living by complicated rules and regulations, where the rituals and regulations become the focus of worship, rather than God. Jesus yoke is easy to comprehend, and its burden is light. However, as he teaches (and as Paul further explains), its implications are much more sacrificial than a set of regulations.

In Conclusion

Jesus’ yoke is very simple to understand and transforms a religious person into a servant in the manner of his or her rabbi. When it becomes tempting to begin (or to return to) a life of ritual/regulation following, it is important to remember Jesus’ yoke. One excellent example of Jesus’ teaching being put into action occurs in the Jerusalem Council narrative in Acts 15, where Peter and James translate the yoke of their rabbi into action for the new Gentile Christians.

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This entry was posted on Friday, March 7th, 2008 at 6:20 pm and is filed under Devotional, Original Articles, Theology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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3 Comments(+Add)

1   anonymousjane
March 7th, 2008 at 7:00 pm

This is so spot-on for what I have been studying my Bible in search of. I am reading through the NT and I’m still in Mathew, so I will dig these verses out eventually, but I enjoyed reading this post immeasurably.

Ingrid’s post on Hope for Laodicea this morning was also a blessing. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me.” I have been harsh about Ingrid in my recent comments, so I wanted to add that. It is sometimes surprising the places where we find that Truth that speaks to us in the right way on the right day.

2   Dave Muller
March 8th, 2008 at 1:42 am

Thanks again Chris, you have another provided an excellent post.

3   Joe C
March 8th, 2008 at 6:33 pm

:cue McDonald’s theme song:

Thanks Chris.