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Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi’s Yoke’

The Rabbi’s yoke is the set of interpretations of the law that a rabbi has and passes to his students. Paul was zealous because his teacher taught him to be. How many of us are still operating out of ingrained lessons and prejudices?

Acts 22:3b
“…Under Gamaliel I [Paul] was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you [the crowd in Jerusalem] are today.”

My mother, an immigrant, was fervent about equal rights. When we first arrived in this country (1951), we lived in North Carolina. My father, already over 60, was forced to carry heavy railroad ties alone because the supervisor assumed he wouldn’t want to work with a negro [that’s the polite term]. We moved to Indianapolis within the year. There we lived in the inner city where we experienced a different form of prejudice against us because we were “foreigners.” In the end, although our family was poor and fiscally conservative, we remained socially liberal.

But others are taught from an early age to distrust, fear and even hate. Children are brainwashed to believe the worst and they quickly mouth the name-calling and rants they hear in the home. This learned hatred is particularly vitriolic in the case of skin color, sexuality, and religious practices. In some middle eastern countries, this yoke (set of beliefs) has escalated to the point of sacrificial suicide to kill and destroy “infidels.”

In order to take on a new yoke, one must take off the old one. “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” [Matthew 6:24a]

It is so difficult to let go of something we have believed our whole lives. Instead, the old yoke is perpetuated from one generation to another. We teach our children what we were taught, either directly or indirectly.

But Jesus says his yoke is easy and his burden is light. [Matthew 11:30] And yet, some people still try to make the yoke of Jesus heavy and burdensome. They manipulate His yoke to be more like the yoke they have known before.

Jesus’s yoke is like no other yoke. There is freedom. There is love. There is a lightness of being. There is trust. There is hope. There is Spirit.

Paul was thrown to the ground and blinded in order to get his attention. What about us? What must God do to reveal the yoke of Jesus to us? I think I am still trying to wear more than one yoke. Show me, O God, the yokes of my past that weigh me down.

I only want to carry one yoke: the yoke of Christ Jesus.

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John 12:26
“Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”

People in Jesus’s culture understood what his call of “follow me” demanded. He was offering his rabbi’s yoke; he was asking them to acknowledge his authority as their “master” (literal translation of the word rabbi from Hebrew).

This is not so easy for our modern day culture, particularly here in the West where rugged individualism is the norm. Most of us don’t trust anyone who would be called the master. It conjures up all kinds of negative images. My mind immediately goes to the idea of a “slave-owner” — not exactly a role model or a yoke I would want to take on by choice.

But Jesus is the epitome of the benevolent dictator. That’s another word that will turn everyone off: dictator. In our age, we have seen power corrupt and that’s all. The idea that anyone could be powerful and benevolent is an oxymoron.

So, following Christ Jesus, is no easy decision. It is a decision of humility and trust. This is where faith begins. And truthfully, most of our lives then are spent in struggling with this relationship. We keep testing and challenging him: Is this really what is best for me? Is this the best you can do for me? If I give up everything, what will be left for me? Eventually, we figure out the first lesson: it’s not about “me.”

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Matthew 11:28-30
“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.”

I am reading a fascinating book called Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith by Rob Bell. I have always been interested in language and the meaning/interpretation of words. So often, we take the most common words for granted. This kind of questioning started back in my theatre days when we were challenged to investigate, “what does this phrase or word really mean?” The Bible is full of words that are loaded: love, grace, sin, hope, faith, truth… that’s just a few for starters!

Anyway, Rob Bell speaks of this meaning and interpretation of words as one of the responsibilities of a Rabbi. And those disciples who studied under a rabbi understood that he was the one, after much study and prayer, who would make the final determination/interpretation. For instance, if the law said that no work could be done on the Sabbath, it was the Rabbi who interpreted what “work” might mean. Different Rabbis had different interpretations. One might say that walking 3 miles was permissible but walking more was work. While another might say 2 miles, etc. As a result, people would choose or align themselves with a rabbi whose set of interpretations they would follow. This set of interpretations was called the Rabbi’s Yoke!

Of course, you can see where I’m going here: Jesus, the Rabbi, brought a new yoke to the people. He even announced it and invited others to follow because His yoke was easy! This is the way of Jesus even today.

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