Come to me, all you that are weary 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.
Some years ago I had the delight of marrying two friends of mine in the beautiful chapel of their college, an old and prestigious institution on the east coast. I strolled the sumptuous grounds of the school, pausing to read markers and tributes to many of the greats who had studied in the hallowed halls.
At rehearsal dinner that night, much conversation revolved around schools attended and the comparing of degrees. A five year old boy who sat beside me at dinner told me of his plans to attend the same Ivy League school as his parents. I was reminded how we are a people who place much emphasis on education and school pride.
But did you ever stop to imagine what the School of Jesus would be like? What would Jesus teach His pupils? What would be His curriculum? What would be His standards for admission?
In today’s Scripture text Jesus picks up on the education jargon of His day to tell about His admission standards and plan of study. Much like students today, a young man in Jesus’ day would make application to study with a chosen rabbi or teacher. If the applicant met the rabbi’s rigorous admission standards he would be accepted to study with that rabbi and to “take his yoke upon him”. As farmers put their yoke upon their oxen so the “yoke” had become a metaphor for taking up the discipline of learning and submitting to a teacher’s instruction.
The standards for admission to Jesus’ school, as outlined in today’s Scripture text, are remarkable! The only applicants Jesus accepts are those coming to Him “weary”,and “carrying heavy burdens”. That is, any who are bone weary of the rules of religion, worn out from the thousand rules and regulations telling us “No, no, no, no, no, no”. Like the mother hen who gathers her chicks under her wings, so Jesus gathers learners exhausted from trying to be good enough for religion’s rules.
Note how Jesus’ plan for learning is no less remarkable. Jesus invites all who are weary to “learn” from Him, for He is “gentle and humble in heart”. He who is gentle and humble teaches gentleness and humility. While we might want Jesus to teach us miracle working and walking on water, He longs to teach us the ways of His humility. And the same Holy Spirit who came upon Jesus like the gentle dove yearns to come upon us in the transcendent power of His humility. More than anything Jesus wants to teach us His humility, because He knows that “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).
Humility is the way of God’s kingdom. In fact, God values our humility more than He values our comfort. This seems strange in our self-saturated age. But in II Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul tells of a “thorn in the flesh” allowed by God to keep him from being “proud” (II Corinthians 12:7). That’s how important humility is to God! Just as God allowed “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” in Paul’s life (II Corinthians 12:10), so He will lovingly allows troubles into our lives to teach us humility.
Humility doesn’t mean thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less. God wants us to be part of His eternal kingdom, where the humble are exalted by the One who humbled Himself for us and for our salvation.
I like to ponder the words of St. Augustine as he extols the supremacy of learning humility:
As the orator, when asked, “What is the first precept of eloquence?” answered, “Delivery”. What is the second? “Delivery”. What is the third? “Delivery”. So, if you ask me in regards to the precepts of the Christian religion, I will answer, first, second, and third, humility.
Again and again the Spirit of God keeps nudging me back to the bottom line of reality, that it isn’t about me, it’s about God! (“Lord, I do believe, help my unbelief!”).
O Father, give us the humility which recognizes its ignorance,
Admits its mistakes, recognizes its need, welcomes advice,
Accepts rebuke. Help us always to praise rather than to criticize,
To sympathize rather than to discourage, to build rather than to destroy,
And to think of people at their best rather than at their worst.
This we ask for Thy name’s sake.
—Prayer of William Barclay
Grace and peace,
photo by Tom Haymes